Why Would A New Patient Choose You?
You know good service and you know poor service. Walk into the electronics store and you expect, or at least you hope, that the kid wearing the store-monogrammed shirt will be able to answer your questions, help you find what you are looking for, replace or refund a product purchase, or address the issue that has brought you into the store. If that expectation isn’t met, you may be irritated, and it’s likely you will think twice about returning - after all, there is more than one store in your area that sells electronics. Competition is good when you’re the consumer. It’s nice to have options.
Your prospective patients feel the same. It’s likely that in your community, there are multiple dentists who could expertly address the oral health needs of any and every new patient. So what is it that prompts “Jill” to choose “Dr. Joe’s” practice over “Dr. Tami’s”? Similarly, why does patient “Jeff” insist that “Dr. Frank’s” practice is clearly the best? And, most importantly, what is it about your practice that appeals to the type of new patients you want to attract?
There may be a host of reasons why one practice scores low and another scores high on new patient appeal. For example, convenient hours and/or practice location, reputation for excellence, offering a variety of services and treatment options, affordable payment plans, and friendly staff are just a few of the essentials on the prospective new patient score card.
As you might expect, there are just as many reasons why a practice may have difficulty attracting new patients as well as keeping existing patients. For starters, practice hours may discourage people from calling for an appointment. If your goal is to increase numbers of new patients, consider the work and lifestyle habits of the patient population you want to attract. If you practice in a bedroom community where most people commute into the city and work 8am - 5pm, providing appointments in the evenings or on Saturdays may be necessary. If you are in a major metropolitan area, staggering the lunch hour or adjusting the workday so that your practice is fully staffed and prepared to offer more lunchtime appointments as well as early morning appointments may be essential to attracting new patients.
In addition to considering whether your hours encourage or discourage new patients, evaluate how accommodating your current scheduling structure is. When prospective new patients call, is there room in your schedule to appoint them within the next week? New patients are calling because they want your services now - not next month, and most certainly not in six months.
If your schedule is so booked that it is “impossible” to schedule a new patient within the next week, you likely have one or more of the following situations occurring: The office books patients six months in advance for hygiene. No one is tracking appointment failures and cancellations; consequently, the schedule looks artificially overloaded. No one is monitoring the numbers of new patient calls to ensure that the practice allocates a specific number of openings in the schedule during prime appointment times to accommodate new patients. In some cases, doctors will invest in marketing campaigns to encourage new patients, but fail to involve and/or inform the business staff, leaving them ill prepared to handle the increased phone calls.
Determine how much time you need to allocate in the schedule to accommodate new patients. Remember, new patient slots should be reserved during prime time. Those are the hours in which your practice experiences the greatest demand for appointments, typically in the late afternoons, evenings, and on Saturdays. If you make it easy for the patient to keep the appointment, they will feel confident in their decision to choose your practice.
Additionally, review new patient activity in your practice over the last six months. If you saw 60 new patients, that would be 10 per month and 2.5 per week. Reserve at least that much time in your schedule to handle immediate new patient demand. If you are planning to actively market your practice, you may need to make adjustments to ensure that your practice can meet demand. Nothing destroys your credibility quicker than an advertisement that claims your practice is accepting new patients, only to have a business employee tell eager callers that they will have to wait for weeks, if not months, to get in.
Next week, keep the new patient excitement going in your practice.
For more information on this topic, visit my blog: The Lighter Side.
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