Having experienced many cold winters here in Michigan, there is one saying I heard as a kid and often repeated to my own children – “Close the back door. We don’t need to heat the garage!”
Dental practices that are experiencing the effects of a slow economy might want to take this saying to heart as it relates to the number of new patients they add to their practice. The average dental practice saw approximately 20 new patients per month in 2011, according to data collected from practices across the country. If you are thinking, wow, what do I have to do to reach that goal? Or, twenty a month? I’m knocking that down by the end of the second week of the month, be careful. Comparing yourself to benchmarks can be helpful, but you need to look at the bigger picture.
Begin this year by establishing the number of active patients you currently have in the practice. A good definition of an active patient, is a patient that you have seen in the practice within the last eighteen months. Then, at the end of each quarter, add to this figure, the number of new patients that have joined your practice. Next, subtract the total number of active patients at the end of the quarter. If the result of this computation is positive, great, your practice is moving in the right direction. If, however, the result of this exercise is the same or lower, you may need to “check the back door”.
Keep in mind that every practice will experience patients leaving. The key here is to track and know why they are leaving. Is it because they have moved away? This happens all the time, but do you know it? If your patients aren’t leaving because they moved out of the area, then it’s likely it may be for a reason or perception that you and your team can change before your schedule feels a major impact.
In his book, Everything is Marketing, Fred Joyal explores several reasons that patients leave a practice. They include the following:
- Your Practice doesn’t offer what they want – Let’s face it, people talk! If they hear about the latest whitening program or dental procedure from a friend and never hear about it from you, then they just might be leaving because they perceive that you don’t offer what they desire. You do offer a whitening program don’t you?
- They don’t know what you do – Begin with the assumption that if they aren’t told at each visit, they don’t know. In my opinion, having a brochure by the checkout counter on a snore guard, or a television ad running in the lobby that demonstrates the benefits of the new laser equipment you are using, doesn’t count as telling them. It only supplements what you and your dental team communicate as part of your continual standard of care.
- They think you are too expensive – Having done many fee analysis over the years, I know that the typical dentist isn’t too expensive. Often, I end up showing a client that their fees are below the average for their locale before they will actually adjust their master fee schedule to a recommended charge. Here is a little secret for you – patients don’t leave because you increase your fees. They leave because they don’t value what you do for them. Building up the value of dentistry in the minds of your patients is a process of communication that you and your team need to work on continually. This communication begins with you, believing in the value of your services.
- Their insurance changed, and you don’t accept it – I’m not an advocate for participating with every dental preferred provider organization that comes your way, but I do think you should research the plans and understand how they work. Prepare a brochure for your patients entitled, Dental Plans: What you Need to Know. Most likely your patients don’t have a thorough understanding of their plan. Once educated, many will choose to stay with you, their preferred dentist – even if that means going out of network and paying more.
- They are embarrassed about how long they’ve put off their recall – I recently went to see my family physician and I know, from first-hand experience, that I felt a little sheepish saying to the receptionist who couldn’t find me on her computer screen – “Might you have changed practice management systems within the last eight years?” I have a dentist client who says, “I hate bugging patients about keeping their appointments”. To which I reply, “You aren’t bugging them, you are simply showing them you care!” This is the last reason Fred points to as a reason a patient might be leaving your office.
- They don’t believe you care – I once had a general dentist call me after being referred to a specialist to have a wisdom tooth extracted. “Mike, I’m just calling to find out how you are feeling. Did everything turn out alright?” You show a patient you understand their discomfort or go out of your way to simply acknowledge them in some way and you show them that you care.
Adding new patients to a practice can be tough in any economy. Be sure to enhance your marketing efforts this year by Minding Your Own Business and “Closing the Back Door!”