Through my days in my dental practice and my time as a partner at MGE: Management Experts, I’ve seen a variety of internal problems that can cause a dip in potential new patients. I sifted through all of this and here’s what I’ve found to be the top four issues and how to fix them.
1. Phone Mismanagement
I could write an entire article on this issue alone, but let’s break it down into a simple concept:
The person answering the phone should schedule anyone on the other end (who is not already a patient) to come in for a new patient exam.
It’s as simple as that. The purpose of the employee answering the phone is not to “filter out bad patients” by finding out if they have insurance, quoting fees, etc. Their purpose is to find out what the patient needs help with and get them in to see the doctor. The receptionist cannot diagnose over the phone, which is why the only way to find out what the patient really needs is to get them into the office to see the doctor.
If the front office staff understand and apply this concept, you can get 10-20 new patients per month with zero additional marketing!
We cover this subject in more depth, as well as examples of handling specific questions and types of calls, in the Phone Skills course on our online training platform, DDSSuccess.com. By just changing what’s happening on the phone, you can see more new patients as early as the next day or week!
2. Your patients are waiting
It’s pretty common for a new patient to call only when it hurts, but this doesn’t mean that they have a low dental IQ. They put off having dentistry because they don’t like needles and drills in their mouth. I think that’s pretty reasonable; I don’t like having them in my mouth either.
So, when they gather up the courage to call in for a new patient exam, let’s help them out by not making them have a week or two to talk themselves out of it (or find a different dentist). New patients should be seen within 24-48 hours no matter what type of appointment it is. And I’m not talking about emergencies. I’m talking about a run-of-the-mill new patient initial exam. Ideally, you would get them in the same day. While that may not be possible, don’t make them wait so long that they talk themselves out of it.
In my office, we would set aside two slots per day per hygienist for new patients. When they called in and asked to get their teeth cleaned, we could get them in within one or two days. This made a huge difference in our new patient numbers.
The MGE Scheduling System helps you design your schedule so that you’re able to fit new patients in quickly without interrupting productive treatment. You can also learn this scheduling system on our online training platform, DDSSuccess.com or attend our free in-person seminar The Art of Scheduling Productively.
3. Refusing to see emergency patients the same day they call
It’s called “Emergency” for a reason! There are two ways I’ve seen people look at a new emergency patient:
- This is a pain-in-the-@## patient who doesn’t care about their teeth and are ruining our schedule. We’ll have to work through lunch if we squeeze them in, or
- This patient is in pain and needs our help! This is an opportunity for our office to impress them and hopefully get a loyal patient.
Emergency patients can be a great opportunity. My practice looked forward to emergencies. We would see them the same day they called in and we went to lunch on time and ended our day on time. You can as well by following this golden rule:
The doctor doesn’t spend more than five minutes with an emergency patient.
It’s simple. All you have to do is get the patient out of pain with some kind of palliative care (i.e. smooth the rough edges of a broken tooth or write a prescription for antibiotics, etc). You’ll run into trouble if you start crown preps or root canals in an already packed schedule. So, don’t do that.
This is the purpose of an emergency visit:
Get the patient out of pain and present the treatment they need to restore the tooth.
The patient is in pain and they’re hard to numb and the procedure is uncomfortable. Diagnose what they need, write them a prescription if needed, then have a staff member spend some time with them getting them to accept what they need to save the tooth, such as a crown or a root canal. See if you can convert this emergency patient into a new patient. It won’t always work, but you have nothing to lose – besides, let’s help them!
3. You're not marketing (or your marketing is ineffective)
When I graduated from dental school, the idea prevalent in our profession was “only desperate doctors have to promote themselves.” If you did good dentistry, took good care of your patients and got involved in your community, everything else would take care of itself. I’m not sure if this ever worked, but it definitely won’t work today.
Those who promote are not desperate losers. They are good business owners. If you want to outlast the competition, you’ll need to promote. Even poor promotion is better than no promotion at all. Although, I don’t recommend poor or half-baked marketing efforts. It’s so easy to learn how to do this right at our New Patient Workshop that it’s a no-brainer.
New patients are important. They are the vital force that keeps your practice alive and growing. I hope this gave you some insight into what areas may be giving you trouble. If you really want to master this aspect of your practice, come to the MGE New Patient Workshop. We also have online training that covers these points at DDS Success.
MGE: Management Experts is a dental practice management training and consulting firm headquartered in St. Petersburg, FL. Over the last 25 years, MGE has helped thousands of dentists become more productive and improve organization and profitability. Learn more at www.mgeonline.com.