My schedule has always been full up until the last few months. Production is falling off and I have noticed more holes in the schedule and less money to pay my bills. I had to let one of my assistants go and I cut the office hours by a half day. When I asked my business manager she said it was just a slow period and things would pick up. Frankly, I am worried. What should I do?
The first step in growing a new practice is to establish a marketing program. Once the patients start coming in and the practice is running at a comfortable pace, it is common for us to see marketing programs being dropped and internal efforts to generate new patient referrals stop. If you think that you have enough patients because you are “too busy” to market your practice, you need to think again. There may come a day when the phone doesn’t ring and the monies coming in are lean. If you don’t capture the moment, the moment can be gone as quick as you had it. This is not the time to think of starting a marketing program. You must never stop marketing. “Do you know how many new patients you have per month?” I asked Dr. Doomangloom. “No, but I feel I have enough.” She replied. Remember…you can’t run a business on “I feel”. Successful businesses are run by having the information.
You can produce a report from your software program that will give you a monthly number of new patients. However, because these are patients entered for the first time, they may have been an emergency patient which does not allow them to be retained through the recare/recall system. This can give you a “false sense” of patient growth.
A true new patient is one that comes in for a Comprehensive Exam. Printing a Procedure Code Utilization Report for the past 12 months will give you the number of Comprehensive Exams you performed. This will help you track the true growth of your practice.
Whether or not you are retaining these patients once they have had the comprehensive exam is measured by how many active patients you have in the recare/recall system. Active patients are patients that are due to return for recare/recall in the next year. If you are losing or not retaining more than 50% of the comprehensive exams coming in the front door, your practice is shrinking, patients are leaving your practice and you need to find out why.
Studies have shown that patients can leave a practice due to even the smallest perception of poor customer service. Making daily calls from a one to 12 month past due recare/recall report and unscheduled treatment-planned report is necessary to make sure you are capturing what at least once was. Remember it costs 5 times the money to market one new patient as it does just to keep the ones who came to you in the first place. Word of mouth referrals is the least expensive means of marketing.
Being aware of the environment around you is also vital. Have new dentists moved into the area offering more convenient hours or other incentives making it inviting to leave your practice? Have you dropped PPO plans without considering what percentage of your patient base carried that insurance? Are you tracking all referral sources with your software and sending out thank-you cards to all that refer to your practice? Are you giving your patients the VIP experience in your office or have you taken for granted why they keep coming back? Are patients seated on time? Are they told when you are running late? Do you stop and say hello even if the patient is here to see the hygienist? Do you call your patients that had a difficult procedure at the end of the day to see how they are feeling? The list goes on and on in ways that you can market your practice both externally and internally. We must never lose sight of why we are busy in the first place, our patients. Without them there isn’t any way to “practice”.
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