Sabri Blumberg Dental Consultant - New Patient Problems: How I've Fixed Them - The MGE Blog

(Note: This is the second installment of a series. Click here for Part 1)

How would I go about “debugging” or fixing new patient related issues in your (or any dentists’) office? Specifically, what remedies would I select for situations ranging from: not enough new patients, number of new patients having dropped off suddenly, or high new patients with low collections?

Well, having remedied situations of this nature hundreds, if not thousands of times, I decided to go about writing it up as a blog post about it. And what started as maybe a one or two part post morphed into…a multi-part series of posts—or nearly an e-book!

So, yes this is long and for that I apologize. My motivation was simple: make it as useful to you as possible. In other words, provide almost a checklist of items you could run through to address new patient issues on your own.

I’ve broken this down into four scenarios (the most common I see), along with my comments and suggestions for each.

In last week’s post, we touched on scenario 1, which was:

New Patient Problems: How I've Fixed Them - The MGE BlogScenario 1: The number of new patients has never been consistently adequate (relative to desired level of growth).

From there I got into the various aspects of external marketing. In this week’s post I’ll pick up where I left off and finish the internal marketing aspects of Scenario 1

Internal Marketing

When we say internal marketing, we mean one thing: referrals. How to get your patients to send you more patients!

If you’ve never seen an adequate number of new patients (beyond external marketing), I’d start by taking an honest look at your office.

Referrals are CREATED. Waiting for them to happen is foolish. You have no control at that point.

So as with external marketing, if you’re not getting enough referrals I’d look at three things:

  1. Are you actually (actively) doing ANYTHING to get referrals? (Beyond wishing you had more).
  2. How is the customer service in your office?
  3. How successful is the office with regards to case acceptance?
  4. How long does it take for a new patient to get into the schedule? I.e. New Patient Initial Exams/Cleanings, etc. (not including emergency patients). This (#4) by the way applies to all marketing efforts.

Let’s take a closer look at each:

  1. Are you actually (actively) doing ANYTHING to get referrals? (Beyond wishing you had more.)

I’ll start here with something that I missed in the last post. Specifically, the FIRST THING YOU MUST DO IF YOU WANT TO INCREASE THE NUMBER OF NEW PATIENTS. And it’s actually simple:

SOMEONE HAS TO BE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE NEW PATIENT STATISTIC IN YOUR OFFICE!

Write that down in permanent ink. Or carve it in stone. If you want a consistently high number of new patients, someone has to be in charge of that area of your practice. Now that doesn’t mean they have to do it full time, that would not be feasible in a small office. In a bigger office it’s not uncommon to have a PR Director who “lives, breathes and sleeps” NEW PATIENTS. It’s their job. In a smaller office, it might the OM’s job. However you do it doesn’t really matter—but it has to be assigned. And that person has to be responsible or accountable.

New Patient Problems: How I've Fixed Them - The MGE BlogOnce you’ve handled this, we can take a real look at this point: Are you actually (actively) doing ANYTHING to get referrals? (Beyond wishing you had more).

It’s easy to get into the frame of mind that “happy people refer,” and that’s true. But there’s a basic concept that applies to all Public Relations and Marketing for that matter, and that is REPETITION OF MESSAGE.

Your patients have lives of their own and most are very busy. Without repetition of message, no matter how happy they are, they will only refer friends or family when an appropriate situation arises.

In other words, happy patient who has never been asked for a referral “Joe,” will only refer a friend or family member when that friend or family member asks about a dentist or expresses a dental problem. I.e. “Hey Joe, I have a toothache!” Joe: “You should check out Dr. Smith.”

If “Joe” was never asked this question, nothing would happen.

This is the passive method of “internal marketing,” which really is NO INTERNAL MARKETING.

Instead, let’s say you had an internal marketing program. Whether it was some type of referral card or even if you just made it a point to ask regularly. Joe might think of a few friends or family members to send in and not wait until he was asked.

So, the idea here is ACTION. Are you asking happy patients for referrals? Is your receptionist looking at patient intake forms and asking things like: “Hi Joe, does your wife have a dentist?” “If not, why don’t we get her to come in for an exam on our new patient special (whatever it might be).

So, assuming someone is responsible, then that someone would (with the office participating of course) DO SOMETHING to get more referrals.

We have a simple referral program called “Care to Share.” If you would like a free copy, feel free to contact me at sabri@mgeonline.com.

Which brings us to the next point:

  1. How is the customer service in your office?

Obviously, a “happy” patient would be:

a. Satisfied with their dental care and

b. Happy with the customer service in your office.

I could go on for quite some time about this. But for a simple checklist of items relating to customer service you could start with:

  1. General staff friendliness
  2. Office appearance (especially cleanliness)
  3. Reception—is it welcoming…or not?
  4. Wait times for an appointment as well as when in the office
  5. Billing issues

New Patient Problems: How I've Fixed Them - The MGE BlogI’m not going to get into each (they’re each self-explanatory), but let’s say you’re hearing consistent “noise” from patients or staff about wait times. Well…you’re costing yourself new patients. The longer you wait to handle it, the more damaging it becomes. And you could say this about each of these points.

I had a point like this come up the other day. I met with a new client who was having new patient problems. I asked her to get some info together for me regarding past marketing campaigns. When I called the office to follow up and spoke to her receptionist, I realized what the new patient problem was: the person answering the phone.

This staff member may have been a fantastic human being. As a receptionist however, she didn’t have the welcoming personality that you would want as the first person a prospective new patient would speak with in your practice. She was relatively brusque from the moment she answered the phone. There’s more to this receptionist point that I’ll get into in my later posts. But the overriding factor here is that your receptionist is the first point of contact in your office.

  1. How successful is the office with regards to case acceptance?

You might have thought this point was out of place. After all, what does case acceptance have to do with new patients—specifically patient referrals, for that matter?

Well, quite a bit.

A happy patient refers. We know that. And of course they’ll refer more with a little encouragement. Your case acceptance rate all goes back to the definition of a happy patient. If you look closely you’ll see that, in the main, patients who have COMPLETED their treatment plans tend to be a more fruitful source of referrals.

It’s not uncommon for a doctor to see an immediate referral boost right after they’ve increased their case acceptance skill set (and results).

So, if you want more referrals, learn how to increase treatment acceptance. I’d suggest the MGE Communication and Sales Seminars.

  1. How long does it take for a new patient to get into the schedule? I.e. New Patient Initial Exams/Cleanings, etc. (not including emergency patients). This (#4) by the way applies to all marketing efforts.

New Patient Problems: How I've Fixed Them - The MGE BlogAs I mentioned above, this applies to ALL marketing efforts.

You could WANT new patients all that you’d like. But if you can’t see them within a reasonable length of time you’re wasting ANY marketing effort.

Let’s say a prospective new patient calls, whether it’s from external marketing or as a patient referral. They are new in town and want their teeth cleaned. After speaking to your receptionist they find that the first appointment available is 3 ½ weeks from now.

Beyond this being anticlimactic, bad customer service and any number of other things, it’s also an invitation for them to call another dentist. The longer you make them wait, the better the chance that this happens.

You’re also asking someone you’ve never met for quite a bit of loyalty and dedication—which they have no idea if you deserve or not yet (as they don’t know you either).

So, I’d do a regular check here on your schedule. If it takes AT MOST more than a couple days to get a new patient in, you must fix this immediately.

How? Well, it depends. If you see new patients booked too far out on your schedule you may need to lighten your load by fixing your scheduling procedures, adding an assistant or possibly an associate (again this depends on your scenario).

If they are seen in hygiene you might need to block time or add a hygienist for a day or two a week.

No matter what the problem is, I can’t stress enough how urgently this has to be fixed. Letting it continue can be disastrous for new patient acquisition.

That’s all the time I have for this week. I’ll see you next week with Part III where I’ll cover how to fix Scenario 2: The Practice used to get a lot of (or adequate) New Patients—but no longer does.

For the next article in this series, click here: How I Fix New Patient Problems – Part III

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