Des Moines dentist John Campbell is gaining a number of patients who probably wouldn’t have sought dental care had it not been for a new dental network/payment app that’s gaining word-of-mouth traction in Iowa.

 Campbell, a second-generation dentist who’s been practicing five years, is among more than 70 dentists who have signed on with Chewsi, which offers a non-insurance, direct-payment alternative for patients. Dentists are also finding the app to be an effective marketing tool, as well as an option that simplifies transactions for the nearly 1 in 4 Iowans who don’t have dental insurance.  

The direct-payment dental app company began adding dentists in Central Iowa about a year ago, with plans for building a statewide network of participating dentists by mid-2021. 

The program grew out of a startup technology company launched in 2016 by Delta Dental of Rhode Island and is now offered in several Northeast states, along with Hawaii. The Midwest is Chewsi’s newest expansion territory. The portal provides access to selected local dentists and offers discounts of between 10% and 30% on services. 

As of mid-April, 68 dentists in Greater Des Moines across nearly 40 practices have joined the Chewsi network, said Jeff Jones, the company’s market director for Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska. Jones, a marketing professional who has represented other Central Iowa health and technology companies, is also building out the Omaha and Kansas City markets for Chewsi as he develops Iowa’s largest metro markets. More than 1,200 Central Iowa residents have downloaded and are using the app, Jones said. 

In Iowa, 23% of residents do not have dental insurance, which makes it less likely that they will regularly visit a dentist, he said. “Typically speaking, if someone does not have dental insurance, they are very infrequent visitors to the dentist, and we want to make sure that we can support them,” he said. 

The program doesn’t charge any premiums or monthly fees. Once downloaded, the free app enables users to register to search for a specific dentist or procedure, call to set up an appointment and pay directly through the app on their smartphone at the dentist’s office.

Dentists who sign on with the program enter into a contract in which they agree to abide by a fee schedule based on factors specific to that particular office. 

While Chewsi is targeting people who don’t have dental insurance coverage, the company also seeks a niche with insured patients who have treatment needs an insurance plan doesn’t cover, such as teeth whitening or implants. It’s also an option for patients who have already reached their annual maximum with their dental insurer. 

As a for-profit subsidiary of Delta Dental of Iowa, the Chewsi program in Iowa has both the short-term and long-term financial support to weather its rollout phase in the state, Jones said. 

Chewsi’s pay-as-you-go program can provide a good option for self-employed individuals as well as employees of small businesses who are not covered by a dental plan. “Small businesses often try to mitigate their expenses by eliminating dental insurance,” Jones said. “Part of my job going forward is to work with industries not offering dental insurance.” 

Additionally, with so many people being furloughed or on unemployment, there are going to be a large number of Iowans who no longer have access to dental insurance, he said. 

As its name implies, part of Chewsi’s strategy is to selectively recruit the best dentists in each suburb and community and then bring them to the consumers. “So consumers who download the app and look for a convenient dentist will see names that they recognize and trust,” Jones said. 

“We’re also limiting the number of dentists who can participate in the program. For instance, with Dr. Campbell and his practice, he is the only dentist in his ZIP code in Des Moines that has access to this program, which is a competitive advantage to him because as consumers are looking for an alternative to insurance to handle their dental care needs, he will be the sole option for his area.” 

Campbell said that in his initial five years practicing dentistry, he’s observed a number of patients opting out of dental insurance unless it’s offered by their employer and electing to pay out of pocket for care. He has found the Chewsi program to be a better, user-friendly option for those self-pay patients, he said. 

He has gotten about 25 new patients who have connected with his practice through the Chewsi app. “We’ve noticed that when we ask our patients how they heard about our office, they’ll say, ‘I looked on Chewsi, and your name popped up and you were close.’ It’s been really advantageous for us from a low-cost or no-cost marketing perspective.” 

Campbell, who also accepts dental insurance, said he finds the Chewsi app provides him more control and less stress. Chewsi’s portal also eliminates the card-processing merchant’s fee for the dentist. The transactions with Chewsi also don’t involve any write-offs of noncovered amounts. 

“Insurance companies write off a significant amount of money, and that varies from company to company,” he said. “Sometimes we can talk to them and try to negotiate, but that’s usually not very successful. With Chewsi we aren’t subject to that write-off, so we have control over that. 

“Another part of that is intangible, because it’s so much easier and less stressful on a day-to-day basis to deal with it,” Campbell said. “So you really can’t put a price on having ease of use and not having something else on your plate to worry about.” n

How to find Chewsi participating dentists 

Visit the Chewsi website at chewsidental.com and search by ZIP code or download the app.