This is part three of a multi-part series on how to fix new patient related issues; specifically, how to get MORE. If you haven’t read the first two installments, click here for part 1 and click here for part 2.
As the person in charge of all MGE’s client delivery for almost twenty years, I’ve seen just about every problem that might arise on the business side of a dental practice. As such, I’m often asked “What would you do about (INSERT PROBLEM HERE)?
With that in mind, I thought: why not put some of these solutions in writing, beginning with new patients, as this is a pretty frequent “need” item. Breaking it down further, I picked the three most common issues (I called them “Scenarios”) that I’ve run into regarding new patients. They 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 but 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 my last two posts, we covered Scenario 1: “Your practice has never consistently attracted an adequate number of new patients.” In this post, we’re going to pick up with Scenario 2: “Your office used to get more new patients but they’ve dropped off – suddenly or over time.”
And with that I’ll dive right in:
Scenario 2: “Your office used to get more new patients but they’ve dropped off – suddenly or over time.”
Solving a problem like this really requires that you put on your “thinking cap.” You must also have a willingness to really LOOK. In other words, you’re doing, for all intents and purposes, an “investigation” into the matter. What you’re looking for in most cases is CHANGE. It may be a big one, small one or a series of changes. But in any event when something is humming along and then stops, something changed. It’s pretty simple when you think about it.
Something I’ve also found is that the sudden “drop off” is easier to fix than the long-term “slow-bleed.” In other words, a practice that goes from 70 to 12 new patients in a few month period is (normally) an easy fix. This same drop over a two year period usually requires more digging as the change or changes might be more subtle. And while this can be fixed just like the sudden drop – I’ve found it takes a bit more time to isolate the specific problem or problems that are behind the drop.
If you find yourself in this boat – now or ever – where you have a short or long-term drop in new patients (or any other statistic for that matter, e.g. collections), there’s a few guiding rules to keep in mind as you look into the matter.
1. Don’t assume anything.
This is where I find most statistic related investigations go off the rails. Someone “knows” what’s wrong before they even look! I’ll give you an example. Let’s say your practice (as above) drops from 70 to 12 new patients over a 1-3 month period. You dropped a few plans in the months prior and one and all assume that this is “the reason” behind the crash in new patients. Well, you may be right…but are you sure? The key here is to LOOK. Pull the new patient logs from the prior period of higher new patients and compare them to now. Does this verify your theory? I’ve seen cases like this where the doctor or office manager “knew” what was wrong only to find that that they were completely off-base. Example: Doctor assumes new patients are down because mailings aren’t working. Looking closer, we find mailing related inquiries are the same as they have always been. Instead, the new patients that were coming from their newspaper ad dropped off. Calling the newspaper we find that they “forgot” to run the doctors ad!
Now, back to the example above (where the practice goes from 70 to 12 new patients), if your investigation does show that you were correct and the reduction in new patients was a result of dropping plans – what then? Well, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with dropping plans. The problem arises when you have nothing to replace the patients you might lose. This tells you that planning – especially marketing related – MUST be done if you want to get off any of your plans. Additionally, depending on the level of participation in your practice, this might also require a staged dropping of plans (i.e. worst ones first and so on) over time so as not to create problems in the office.
Back to the point here: don’t assume and ALWAYS verify. Don’t KNOW what’s wrong before you even look! You might be surprised at what you find.
2. Be willing to be “wrong.”
This is a big one. I’ll give you an example: Let’s say you hate your marketing – so you change it to something new that you love. Only problem: new patients crash at the exact moment this change takes hold. So, you look into it. Even though the statistics (and new patient logs and so on) bear out that new patients dropped as soon as you made the change, you can’t “see” this, as in your mind, it’s not even possible! You think: “This new marketing is great, and I love it – it can’t be the reason why new patients have dropped.” So, you blame something else, such as the receptionist, and things get worse.
Yeah, we’ve all been here at some point in our lives: Wrong, but insisting that we are “right.” It’s tough. But this inability or unwillingness to be “wrong” is a key ingredient in many business disasters.
When looking into a drop, the most important thing is to find what changed that brought it about. In some cases – you may have instituted this change. Maybe you stopped a particular line of marketing. Maybe you changed how you scheduled new patients. In any event, be willing to confront it, admit it, fix it and move on.
I’ve seen Jeff (our COO) and Adam (our Marketing Director) go through this. They create a campaign that they love and it’s a dud. As Jeff will tell you, he will throw marketing away rather than mail it (mailing costs far more than printing) if it doesn’t work. Do you know what they do when this happens? Confront it, have a good laugh over it and move on. Now of course, in order to do this, you have to be right far more than you are wrong (which they are). “Duds” are rare. And I have good news for you: you are right far more than wrong, otherwise you wouldn’t be in business!
Something works or it doesn’t. How someone feels about it, who did it and so on have no bearing on whether something works or not. Statistics will tell you the tale. Stick to the facts and be willing to be wrong. It’s a lot easier than continuing to do the wrong things for your business so that you can be “right.”
3. The change is there…always. You just may not have found it yet!
In the process of investigating, sometimes you’ll get stumped. Nothing seems to have changed – except the new patient statistic.
You might throw up your hands at that point and decide the drop must just be a “random” thing that has no reason behind it. Well, it’s not. You need to keep looking. I put this here to highlight an important quality that anyone looking to fix/debug an area must have and that’s PERSISTENCE. Don’t lose your certainty that you’ll find something – look hard enough and you will.
That’s all the space I have for this week’s post. In next week’s post, we’ll delve further into how to fix a new patient drop-off – including:
- Sudden versus long-term drops.
- The specific areas to look into that may be responsible for the drops.
Until then, I wish you the best! As always, if you have any questions feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org