Sabri Blumberg Dental Consultant“What should I do?”

New patients are inadequate or have dropped off.  You need to solve this problem FAST before it begins to affect the office. So, you ask yourself the above question.

And that very question is what brought me to writing this series of articles!

Beginning with the idea that I was writing a one or two part post, it quickly mushroomed into something else! And here we are on Part VI of this multi-part series. You can find earlier issues here: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V.

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Not caught up with the earlier articles in the series? Here’s a quick catch-up: This series covers the three most common new patient related issues I encounter with new MGE Clients. These issues or “scenarios” as I’ve called them are:

Scenario 1: Your practice has never consistently attracted an adequate number of new patients.

Scenario 2: Your office used to get more new patients and they’ve dropped off – suddenly or over time.

Scenario 3: You’re getting a good number of new patients, but you’re not seeing the expected results in your collections or bottom line.

In the past five posts, we’ve covered how to solve “Scenario 1” (Your practice has never consistently attracted an adequate number of new patients), and got wellMGE New Patient Workshop into the middle of “Scenario 2” (Your office used to get more new patients and they’ve dropped off – suddenly or over time).

In Parts IV and V, I covered the four immediate steps to take when examining a new patient drop.  I left off in my last post in the middle of point “4,” in which you would:

 4. Compare sources and see if there are any obvious/large variances – i.e. you were getting 20 new patients a month from your website and this dropped to 3, or your mailing was pulling 25 a month and this has dropped to 10. The idea is we are trying to locate the real problem which we will dig into further. Now one of two things is going to happen here:

I. You’ll find one or two sources have dropped off quite a bit, resulting in the overall crash. I.e. referrals, newsletter and 1-800 Dentist new patients are about the same from before to after the drop while new patients from the website have crashed by 60%. Or,

II. All sources are down considerably contributing to the overall drop.

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Between Parts IV and V we covered how to handle “I” above.

In this issue, we’re going to cover how to handle number “II”:

We cover all of this extensively in the MGE New Patient Workshop. For more information go to www.newpatients.net. Special offer ending May 1st!

All sources of new patients are considerably down contributing to the overall drop.

What Happened?

Let’s say you have five sources that regularly produce new patients – i.e. referrals, a newsletter, and postcards and so on.

The odds of ALL of these five sources going bad at the SAME TIME are beyond slim.

So, if we see an immediate drop in ALL sources, the problem in 99.99% of cases is not the SOURCE (or sources), it’s some kind of an internal issue.

And as we’ve covered in prior parts of this series, we’re looking for change of some kind; specifically the change (or changes) that brought about the drop in statistic.

Generally speaking, with a sudden drop in new patients, the change is (normally) easier to find – as it’s more recent.

With the long-term drop off, it’s a bit harder (due to time) and another factor steps in which complicates things. Longer term drops are usually filled with multiple changes. Most of which were done in reaction to the first change which went unnoticed.

Let me explain.

Let’s say, new patients are averaging 50 a month. All of a sudden one month they drop to 30.  You assume (with no further investigation) that your newsletter is “not working” and stop it. New patients drop further (but you don’t realize it’s because of the newsletter because you have all but forgotten about it) and you assume it’s your receptionist. So, you fire her. New patients tank further. You try some new marketing and new patients pick up a bit (to 35 a month), but you’re spending more on marketing now for those 35 patients than you did earlier for 50 a month. Frustrated, you sign up with a couple of PPOs. New patients pick up to 75 a month, but due to this spike, you stop the marketing that you were doing to full-fee patients. A year into all of this, new patients have dropped to 45 a month and most are from these new PPOs where you’re writing off 30%. Collections suffer.

What we have here is change upon change upon change. The problem is we never identified the CORRECT one which caused the original 50 to 30 drop.

If anything, this is something to keep in mind when looking at a longer-term drop. And as I mentioned in prior articles, you can apply these concepts to more than just new patients! You can apply to ANY aspect of your office. For that matter (and I’ve mentioned this several times) if you really want to become sharp at this, do the MGE Power Program! One aspect of your training is investigatory technology. You’ll be able to discover (and fix) the source of bad situations in a flash.

Finding the Problem

So, we are looking for some kind of change. So, what do we do? Simple:

  1. Identify the point where the drop actually begins: We could easily find this by month, but you’re going to want to look a little deeper. Let’s say the first bad month was April. OK. WHEN in April did things go bad? From the beginning? The middle? You get the idea.
  2. Make a list of any changes that occurred in the 30 days prior to the drop. Specifically look at:

a. Personnel changes (new hires, anyone fired, anyone whose job switched – i.e. receptionist becomes assistant, etc.)

This is a key – let’s say for example your receptionist left and the drop occurs just at this point.  Do you fire the new one? Maybe. It depends.

It’s not usually the person themselves that was the issue. More often it is what the old receptionist DID or DIDN’T do. Chances are the new one is doing something the old one didn’t or isn’t doing something the old one did.  And this concept alone points up the importance of proper training materials!

How would you figure this one out? Well, listen to them. Question them and see how they are handling new patient calls. Maybe you’ll find they are handling new patient calls like “they did at their old office,” which isn’t how you want them handled in yours. Train them, see if this fixes it. You may have to replace them. To reinforce this issue (i.e. that it might be the receptionist) it’s critical to have the ability to track new patient calls and conversions. Then you can compare your new receptionist’s effectiveness with the old one’s and a) train for improvement or b) replace.

b. Policy or procedural changes.

This can also be BIG. Let’s say you’ve changed your new patient scheduling policy where they can only come in the mornings. This happened two weeks before the drop. Well, switch it back!

Changes in procedure are normally done because they seem like a “good idea” at the time. Well, only time will tell and this is why you keep track of them. A poor policy change can decimate a business – look at what happened to Coke in the 80’s when they changed their formula for a bit. Luckily they were smart enough to change it back!

c. Oddball, uncommon or unseen changes.

These can vary. But you’d want to look at anything that could potentially impact the receipt of or conversion of new patient inquiries.

A silly example (but I’ve seen it): Maybe you moved a few weeks prior to the drop. Well, one of the bigger mistakes I’ve seen with office moves is lack of consistent promotion about it ahead of time. If this happens to you, it’s not the end of the world – you just have to make up for lack of promotion and communication with your patient base after the fact.

Other weird ones I’ve seen include:

  • One of the promotional phone numbers (listed in a number of places – i.e. website, etc.) has been unknowingly disconnected. I know this is strange – but it happens. Your office may have 3 or 4 numbers for prospective patients to call. All it takes it for one of those to go down and you can see a drop.
  • Receptionist changes what they are doing for no good reason. I saw this happen once (actually more than once), where a receptionist on their own accord decides to change the new patient intake/conversion process. In one case I saw a receptionist do this after observing the doctor complain about the “low Dental IQ” of the last few new patients. On her own, she decided to qualify prospective new patients more thoroughly – adding 5-10 minutes a phone call – and blowing quite a few prospective new patients off. The doctor and OM were completely unaware that this was happening. And the receptionist did it out of a desire to help. It was unfortunately the wrong solution. The OM found out when she looked into why new patients dropped and tracked it back to the dropped conversion rate. Listening from nearby when the receptionist handled a call, she began to see what was happening.
  • New patient appointment availability has changed. This again can sneak up on you. For example, one office filled hygiene with a heavy amount of reactivation activity, and it killed the number of available new patient appointments. Hygiene was jam-packed with recall (which is great) but no new patient slots were available. New patients looking for an initial exam and cleaning went from waiting 24-48 hours for an appointment to two weeks! Long waits are a no-no and this office paid for it with less new patients. Thankfully it was an easy fix. More hygienist days were added up and the doctor opened up some time in his schedule for new patients. Lo and behold new patients picked right back up. To avoid this mistake in the future, new-patient-only slots were integrated into the schedule.

We cover all of this extensively in the MGE New Patient Workshop. For more information go to www.newpatients.net. Special offer ending May 1st!

The Long-Term Drop

As I mentioned earlier, one of the liabilities of the long-term drop is the increased chance of multiple changes. So, if your drop is long-term (i.e. from 50 a month to 20 a month over a one-year period), you might want to start a little different.

If I was in this situation, prior to doing the steps outlined above, I would look back at the successful period and make a list of everything I was doing and who was involved with regards new patients. For example, I would list.

  1. All promo I was doing,
  2. The procedures and policy (written or not) that I was using to get and convert new patients – i.e. scheduling procedure, when they were scheduled and so on and,
  3. Who the personnel involved were (if there were changes, we may have lost some successful actions that we can reinstitute).

By looking at 1-3 above, I would notice what has changed from the present and could then re-implement some of these dropped actions.  This doesn’t mean I wouldn’t do the steps listed earlier in the article. But I would start here and may find my solution pretty fast.

And with that, I’ll end off with this week’s post.  In next week’s post, we’ll move onto how to solve Scenario 3: “You’re getting a good number of new patients, but you’re not seeing the expected results in your collections or bottom line.”

If you really want to hone in your skills on this, do the MGE New Patient Workshop. For more information go to www.newpatients.net. Special offer ending May 1st!

If you have any questions between now and then, feel free to email me at sabrib@mgeonline.com or call me at (800) 640-1140.

Until then!

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