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5.23.08 Issue #324 Forward This Newsletter To A Colleague

Scott McDonald
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The Case for Market Research

We have all had the experience of believing that we have a large amount of money in the bank but then finding out that funds are missing. It is usually the result of a forgotten withdrawal or miscalculation in making a deposit. It is a horrible feeling of panic and anger. “What could have happened?” we ask ourselves as we stare at the numbers again and again. “Who did this?”

This dose of reality is chilling to say the least. But it is also invaluable because it provides us with a sense of “the real world” as opposed to a set of vague assumptions. Although there is definite comfort in not knowing what is going on, it is a poor way to do business. Knowing your exact balance makes sense.

So, what should you know about the “real world” of your practice to help you make better decisions (even if it is not great news)? The attitudes and opinions of your patients will be helpful. So will an understanding of the world outside your office door.

McKenzie Management can offer some insightful tools to help determine what your patient relations account looks like and the current environment of your practice.

Patient Surveys

Knowing what is going on in the heads of your patients is certainly a good start to understanding the state of your practice. In our experience, doing an annual patient survey of 100 or more patients will give the doctor and staff real-world information, or market research that can either reinforce good expectations or provide a wake-up call about factors in the practice that may be a concern. Are patients finding it harder to find a parking space? Does it seem more difficult for them to get an appointment? How is the change of staff working out? Are you falling into some bad habits?

It does not take very long to find out what you are doing right and what you are doing wrong. Unfortunately, most patients like you so much that they may consider offering such candid advice or making such frank observations that they could be taken as insults. Getting a third party to carry out and analyze patient comments may be the best way to learn the truth.

We use a survey that takes into account specifics such as the reception area, parking and billing. We want to know about the patient’s attitudes regarding each member of the dental team as well as the doctor. Knowing their thoughts about fees, hours of operation and location can be an extremely useful exercise that helps the practice stay ahead of potential problems as well as continue doing the things that are working out well.

Demographic Reports

Knowing about the people inside the practice is valuable, but what about the people outside? For example, no practice should assume that the same patient pools it has always drawn upon will remain the same. People grow older. Households shrink. Families move away. New offices open nearby. Big employers may be hiring or firing your patients. The housing and credit crisis may be sneaking into your practice area (or not).

We have noticed that during the space of ten years, the entire population of many American cities nearly completely turns over (at least for the population under 40 years of age). Communities may gain new socioeconomic strata, cultural values and even languages. If a practice is still making its basic assumptions of practice promotions on information that was gleaned a decade earlier, is there any wonder that the practice might have some trouble growing?

Many people turn to their local chamber of commerce or some other “free” demographic site from the Internet for information. The trouble with free demographic information is that it comes with no analysis. Data is cheap. The real value in this kind of information is having it interpreted by an expert. Wouldn’t you feel better about someone who has looked at several thousand X-rays before trusting your case to a surgeon? For that same reason, having an expert examine the recent demographic data surrounding your practice makes sense.

McKenzie Management has a series of demographic tools that will help you identify what is going on outside of your office doors. In addition to evaluating your current location, they can help you identify the best sites for a second office, alternate locations and satellites. The only complaint we ever hear is, “Why didn’t I do this a long time ago? It would have saved me tens of thousands of dollars!”

The Bottom Line

In a world that changes as quickly as ours, it only makes sense for a wise professional to check vital signs not just inside the practice but outside the office as well.

If you are interested in a Community Overview Report that will help explain what your practice area is like NOW and what it is becoming IN THE FUTURE, go here: Community Overview Report

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