Q: I’ve made it a point this year to focus on getting more new patients. I started marketing a few months ago (mainly mailings and some online) but haven’t seen much in the way of results yet. Any advice?
A. I feel your pain. There’s nothing more frustrating than spending money and failing to see the expected return! First off, don’t feel alone. I’ve seen plenty of dentists in this situation. My first piece of advice would be to do the MGE New Patient Workshop (hint…hint…shameless plug).
OK, with that out of the way, let’s have a look at a checklist of the usual suspects behind poor marketing performance and/or new patient acquisition.
Calls: You’re marketing, which is good. However, the first thing I would look at is how many CALLS have been generated as a result. Marketing doesn’t create new patients – it creates calls into your office (you know, inquiries). Most people use a unique phone number for their marketing to more accurately track these calls. No or low calls = marketing is ineffective and needs to be fixed. How many you would expect depends a lot on how much promotion or marketing you are doing, i.e. how many potential new patients you’re reaching. Now on the other hand, let’s say you are receiving calls, but you’re just not seeing these people on the schedule. Well, then we move onto the next point…
The Front Desk: New patient calls are coming in…that’s good. If they’re handled poorly…that’s bad. When you look at how your Front Desk handles these calls, take the viewpoint of a prospective patient. How many times in the past have you called around looking for some type of vendor or maybe even a new doctor’s office, only to be turned off by how you were handled at this initial contact? The job up front is simple – get them in! Don’t be a bouncer! This problem is much bigger than you think. Some of these calls I’ve listened to border on nauseating. They would have been better off telling the prospective new patient to “Go Away!” We teach you all about how to handle this at the MGE New Patient Workshop (OK…I had to say it…don’t blame me…it’s a good service), but if you want some immediate help, click on “Getting New Patients In the Door” by MGE client and Office Manager extraordinaire, Mrs. Laura Hatch.
Wait Time: Assuming there are no problems with “1” and “2” above, the last point I would check is capacity and wait time. New patients should be seen within 48 hours (emergencies sooner, of course). The longer you make them wait the better the chance they will call another dentist. If patients are waiting two weeks (or more) to get in – you have a problem.
Q. Treatment presentation question: At what point should I “pass the baton” to my front desk when presenting a treatment plan?
A. Good question! Traditionally, the doctor lays out the plan, never discusses fees and turns it over to the front. And this is fine – if you want absolutely no control over your production or collections!
I’ll make this simple. Ultimately, you (the doctor) are responsible for treatment acceptance (or lack of). So, when should you pass it over? When you are certain the patient is committed to following through! If they’re not and have no intention of following through, you wouldn’t need to pass it over – would you?
This means you would:
a. Make sure they completely understand the treatment plan, including the ramifications of lack of follow-through.
b. Answer any questions and address any concerns they might have.
c. Discuss fees. If insured, this would include their projected co-pay.
d. If needed, discuss financial options (i.e. payment plans, patient financing, etc.)
Assuming you’ve done “a” through “d” above and your patient is ready to move ahead, you would have them wrap up the paperwork and payment with the front or your Treatment Coordinator.
To do this you would need time. I always advise to build some of this time into the schedule via consult appointments for larger cases. (You can even do this for the not-so-large cases – 3 crowns, etc. – if needed. If there’s no time to present that day for you or the patient, bring them back for a brief consult).
Remember, patients are far more likely to listen to you – the doctor – than anyone else. Ask your staff if you don’t believe me. You are also responsible to do your darndest to restore a patient’s oral health and function. Well, you can’t very well do the treatment if a patient doesn’t accept! If you really want to master the subject of case acceptance, come to the MGE Communication and Sales Seminars.
Q. My schedule is out of control. I’ll have a two-hour opening and then work through lunch for six hours straight, with two hours past closing! I want to fix this – but where do I start?
A. Without knowing all of the specifics surrounding your situation, I can’t zero in on the exact reason behind all of this. I can, however, provide a general guideline to follow which can put you on the right track. Here goes:
1. Do you have scheduling policy? If you do and it’s reasonable (meaning it isn’t too hard to follow and can actually be done), go on to the next step. If not, sit down at the end of the day and create one! I’d include
- What hours patients can be scheduled for, i.e. don’t schedule patients earlier than ___ or later than ___ on these days.
- What procedures you want to see when – i.e. primary production in the morning at these times, secondary type procedures (fillings, etc.) during these times and so on.
- A general guideline as to how long each procedure takes. Use your fee schedule to ensure you don’t forget anything as all of the procedures you deliver should be listed on this.
- Make sure your staff understand this policy.
(Now, there’s much more to this, such as a scheduling system, and so on. If you’d like to learn more, come to one of our Free Art of Scheduling Productively Seminars (For a more in-depth handling, come to the Scheduling for Production Seminar at MGE.)
2. Assuming you have policy and your staff know it, the next thing I’d look at would be: who is responsible for the schedule? In the conventional front desk set-up, everyone does a little of everything. While I’m all for cross-training, I don’t recommend no assignment of specific duties or functions. This can mean big trouble. With this set-up, who do you talk to when something goes wrong? Who’s accountable? Or if things are going well, who’s behind it? Make one person ultimately responsible for the schedule – i.e. keeping it productive, full and properly scheduled according to policy. Sure other people can help, but this person is the one ultimately responsible.
3. The last thing I’d look into if you have “1” and “2” is this: How good are your staff at dealing with people? Dentistry is a service business. It’s a people business. I’ve seen doctors go from having an empty schedule to a full one by doing nothing more than changing WHO was scheduling. Assuming that the person you have has the basic skill set to make it on this position, get them trained. I’d recommend the MGE Communication and Sales Seminars (of course…)