I Hear You Knocking, but You
A line from a popular song of many years ago reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend who relayed to me her story of not being able to get an appointment with a local dentist. “I felt like I was trying to join an exclusive club, when what I wanted was to see the dentist for a filling and a cleaning. I was told I would have to have an examination first but could not get the cleaning or the filling for several weeks.”
The goal for scheduling new patients should be 98% of those that call wanting to see a dentist. The 2% would represent patients that wanted something the practice did not offer, such as late evening appointments or free dentistry. If you have scheduled that new patient within a week to two weeks of their call, you can expect them to show up 99% of the time - but if you put them out for three weeks or longer, chances are they will get in to see another dentist. Look at it this way, if you are ready to buy something you usually act on it. If you went to the store to buy a new camera and were told they couldn’t get one for three weeks, would you wait, or would you move on to the next store?
If your goal is to build your practice by attracting new patients with a great website, marketing services like direct mail, networking in the community, etc. then why set up roadblocks to patients who are seeking your services? A common roadblock is the doctor’s philosophy or a misunderstanding of the doctor’s philosophy.
Take Jane, a newly hired business coordinator for Dr. A. Dr. A has told Jane to tell new patients that there will be a new patient exam of an hour and a half where records will be taken and a comprehensive examination will be presented. An appointment with the hygienist will be a second appointment and her/his availability would be two to three weeks after the examination appointment. Dr. A is proud of his thorough examination and his goal is to build a relationship with the patient and an understanding of whole health.
Jane began to realize that about 50% of the patients that called scheduled appointments according to Dr. A’s philosophy, the other potential patients did not schedule and said that they needed care sooner or were current with their dentistry and just wanted to get in for a general examination and cleaning. Jane looked at the new patient count for the last year and it averaged 8 a month. Patient retention was declining and it appeared that more patients were leaving the practice than were being replaced. Even though Dr. A was a very good clinician and a caring person, limiting new patients to his philosophy was causing practice decline.
Jane decided to help the situation by categorizing new patients by their immediate needs. Her goal was lofty: schedule everyone that called and create a system to identify these different types of new patients. “We will not be sacrificing your philosophy; we will be providing more patients an opportunity to get to know us by getting them in the chair,” said Jane. The following were categories that helped Jane achieve her goal of getting everyone scheduled.
After six months of using the categories, the new patients seen at Dr. A’s office doubled, as did his opportunity to communicate his philosophy.
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