If you’ve ever done any marketing for your dental practice in order to increase case retention and acceptance, you’ve probably experienced (to one degree or another) two issues:
1. A slew of new patients that cancel or no-show for their appointments or
2. New patients who are fine with getting X-rays and a cleaning, but refuse further treatment for any number of reasons (can’t afford it, bad insurance, poor credit, etc.). And then … you never see them again.
In last week’s article, we covered “#1” above. Specifically, how to address and potentially prevent new patient cancellations and no-shows. If you missed it, you can find this article here.
In this week’s post, I wanted to discuss “#2” above and look at real solutions for new patient treatment acceptance and retention.
As I mentioned last week, it’s not uncommon for a dentist to blame “the marketing” for attracting “low-quality new patients,” with “low-Dental IQs” who cancel, no-show or don’t accept treatment. Beyond the fact that I really don’t like the term “low-quality” new patient (and there’s no uniform definition for it anyway), the whole concept is flawed.
Looking further into issues like this, the problems are almost always generated internally – i.e. within the office itself, whether it’s how the phones are handled or errors in case presentations. Sure, there’s the rare off occasion when the marketing is to blame – for example marketing that just doesn’t get a response or marketing to the incorrect target audience (e.g. marketing implants to college age kids), but again, the vast majority of the time I find that marketing actually isn’t the problem.
Bottomline: there’s no marketing that will guarantee to bring in 100% fantastic, highly dentally educated patients that are already approved for patient financing and accept any treatment plan you give them without a hitch. If someone were to invent this by the way … let me know! The reality is your new patients are going to be a wide range of people with varying viewpoints on the subject of dentistry, and that’s fine and just the way things are. It’s up to you to turn them into educated, long-term patients!
Some patients are going to need a little more effort and TLC in order to accept comprehensive treatments or stick with the practice long-term. And if you’re doing it right, the majority will become great patients. It may happen that a few may just come in for one quick cleaning or x-ray and then you’ll never see them again. But that should be rare.
If it seems like you’re getting a high percentage of “unqualified” patients who don’t accept or can’t afford dentistry, then most likely you need to look at the way you are presenting treatment to them and coordinating financial arrangements.
Here’s the number one problem I see when I hear that a high percentage of new patients “can’t afford treatment”: the doctor isn’t spending enough time with these patients during their initial visit.
This is also a scheduling issue.
Spending enough time with the new patient
The doctor needs enough time to really educate the patient on what they need, answer questions and address any concerns or objections to the treatment plan.
Keep in mind, when you’re getting new patients in through marketing, most of the time these patients don’t have a dentist and possibly haven’t seen a dentist in years. Why is that? Well, usually it’s because they are fearful of dentistry or they have financial concerns.
It takes time and a lot of communication to help these patients overcome their concerns to doing the treatment. They’re not going to be as easy as a long-term loyal patient who’s been coming to you every six months their entire life because they value their teeth.
It can be tough, especially with a fearful patient, because they will act like they understand when the doctor speaks with them and say they don’t have any questions — even though they do have questions/concerns! But they’re a little afraid so they don’t mention it and just politely nod until they can get the heck out of the dental practice.
You need to be skilled (and your treatment coordinator needs to be skilled) in communication and case acceptance. If you haven’t already done case acceptance training at MGE, it’s a must. Contact us at (800) 640-1140 for more info.
But the first step is to make enough time in your schedule to answer questions and address concerns.
Don’t postpone the treatment presentation
One solution I see some offices attempt when they don’t have enough time with new patients is to just do a cleaning or present the treatment in phases – i.e. start with the first part of the treatment plan and then present the rest on subsequent visits.
The problem with this is that, again, this patient may have waited years building up the courage the come to the dentist. The fact that they arrived in the office is an achievement to them. So, the longer you wait the less likely they are to keep that courage up. So, spend the time with them when they come in to your office the first time.
Patients who can’t afford treatment
When I hear from a doctor or staff member that lots of their patients “can’t afford treatment” I know that they aren’t spending enough time with the patients or they are doing something wrong in their case presentations (usually both).
You would be surprised at the lengths people will go to make ends meet when they really care about something. Look at that patient who “can’t afford treatment.” Odds are they drove a car here that they’re making payments on, they have a new iPhone, etc. If they really want something, they can figure out how to make it happen. They might need a co-signer on financing, they might need to ask a family member for help, or they might need to put a little more on their credit cards than they initially expected. But there is usually a way if the patient wants to do the treatment and is willing to work out a solution with you.
Usually when you hear “Oh I can’t afford it,” “I don’t have any money right now,” etc., The reality is that the patient just isn’t convinced that they really need the treatment.
Again, it comes back to the doctor spending enough time with the patient to ensure they really do understand the treatment and its importance, as well as answer any questions or concerns.
And then occasionally there really is a case where the patient cannot afford anything, has bad credit, can’t get help from family, etc., and there just is no solution. You have to handle on an individual basis as these as they come – but these instances are far less than you imagine. You might have to phase treatment, or you might do it as a charitable case, or refer them to the local dental school if it’s a large treatment plan. Up to you. This will happen from time to time, but it shouldn’t be 70-80% of your new patients (which I’ve heard some dental offices say). If the percentage is that high, the problem is not the patient, it’s with your office.
Keep learning how you can improve your case presentations
Even if you’re a great communicator and have a good case acceptance rate and good case retention, everybody can improve. It’s important to keep learning. I highly suggest attending the MGE Communication & Sales Seminars. The results from these seminars far outpace any other case acceptance and case retention programs in the industry.
I hope this helps! These are just a few tips. To really solve this issue, come to MGE. Give us a call at (800) 640-1140 for a free consultation.