This Year’s Must-Have Holiday Gift: Patients
Here we are, just weeks from the 2013 holiday season. Oh Joy...or not. For dental practices, the holidays deliver an abundance of no-shows, last minute cancellations, and any number of excuses to delay treatment. But with a little planning, the final weeks of the year present the perfect opportunity for dental practices to ensure that the schedule is not only full, but patients are in the chair. That opportunity comes in the form of the annual insurance benefits notification to patients.
Many dental insurance plans are just sitting there with benefits unused and poised to go to waste as soon as the clock strikes midnight on December 31. In fact, dental insurance companies count on making millions of dollars off of patients who never use their insurance benefits, because unbeknownst to the consumer, many of these plans provide coverage up to a certain dollar amount annually. But insurance companies certainly aren’t going to alert customers, and most patients are too busy to study how much remains on their policies. So it’s up to dental practices to get the word out to patients - and fast.
I recommend a multifaceted approach that makes use of all your practice/patient communication tools, including postal mail, email, text messaging, Facebook, Twitter, your website, and the practice blog to let your patients know that you have a little gift just for them this holiday season.
First step, identify those patients with unused insurance benefits who are in need of treatment or preventive care. Next, draft an email to notify them of the unused benefits. For example, the email might read, “Our computer estimates that you still have unused dental insurance benefits available to you. Unfortunately, you will lose those benefits if you do not use them by the end of the year. We want to help you secure the insurance coverage available to you on every dental procedure you schedule, and this is an excellent time to take care of any hygiene visits or dental treatments that you might have been putting off.
Give us a call today, and together let's make sure you get the treatment you need in time for the holiday season. As a special incentive for scheduling your appointment, we are offering a free teeth whitening kit if your treatment is completed by December 31, 2013. Please call (give phone number and name of appointment scheduler) or ‘click here’ to schedule your appointment.”
In addition, post a general message on your Facebook page reminding patients that unused insurance benefits cannot be carried over. Consider writing a practice blog explaining to patients that dental insurance companies bank on policy holders who do not use the benefits to which they are entitled and have paid premiums to secure. Consider a tweet along these lines – Are you about to lose your unused dental benefits? Call Dr. Joe and find out 222-555-1234.
For patients who may prefer postal mail over electronic messages and email, send a letter to inform them of their unused benefits. Include information along these lines:
Dear Mrs. Patient,
Did you know that each year insurance companies make millions of dollars off patients who forego necessary and preventive dental care? Many individuals are not scheduling necessary dental treatment that they have insurance to cover. Thus, the insurance revenues allocated to pay dental claims are never used, and unfortunately, those dollars cannot be carried over year-to-year. The bottom line: What the patient does not use they lose.
Our computer estimates that you still have $$$ in unused dental benefits. We are here to help you secure the insurance coverage available to you on every dental procedure you schedule. Give us a call today, and together let's make sure you are in excellent dental health. As a special incentive, we are offering a free in-home teeth whitening kit for all dental treatment completed by January 1, 2014. Give (name of appointment scheduler) a call at 222-555-5555. I look forward to seeing you soon.
P.S. Find out about additional interest free financing options for dental care. Check with Peggy in my office for all the details.
For more information on this topic, visit my blog: The Lighter Side
Interested in speaking to me about your practice concerns? Email email@example.com
Need Patients? Go Direct.
Remember when you were a kid and getting mail meant you were probably in for something fun, maybe a party or special celebration or a letter from a relative or friend who lived far away? My, how times have changed. Today, most of what we receive in terms of “mail” fills our electronic mail boxes. Promotions, bills, notices from various service providers, even party invitations no longer come via snail mail. Along with the electronic mail that you actually need and want, there is likely more digital garbage than you have the time or the energy to sift through. Spam and junk email folders collect hundreds of marketing missives that are targeted for this or that audience, but often are discarded without a glance.
Interestingly, the explosion in electronic mail and the subsequent reduction in the use of traditional mail are opening up new opportunities for dentists. How so, you ask? What was once old is new again, and that friendly mail carrier could be the key link between you and a host of new patients.
Today, direct mail marketing is as strong as it has ever been. Why? The obvious reason is that fewer businesses are using it. Instead they are filling up your electronic mailbox with all the junk that formerly lined your physical mailbox. Don’t get me wrong, email and electronic communication are absolutely critical in effectively marketing a dental practice. But they are only part of a total marketing strategy.
What is particularly interesting about the swing of the electronic vs. paper marketing pendulum is that while people won’t hesitate to click “delete” to rid themselves of the multitude of electronic distractions, they will take time to actually look at a flyer, brochure, newsletter, or postcard sent through traditional mail. For a few seconds or a few moments, when a person is reading the expertly written letter or the professionally designed postcard sent through the mail, you have a captive and engaged audience. What’s more, direct mail can be used for a multitude of marketing purposes, including generating new patients, reconnecting with former patients, creating awareness of the practice in the community, educating patients and the community about services, and the list goes on.
Direct mail, like many marketing tools, tends to be misunderstood. Typically dentists will claim that direct mail doesn’t work, doesn’t deliver the patient numbers they want, and is too expensive to bother with in this age of electronic communication. But few truly understand how direct mail works and the fact that the return on this investment can be huge - provided it’s done right. As is often the case, it’s not the “tool” that fails; typically it’s the manner in which it is used. In other words, most direct mail campaigns that don’t produce results are poorly executed. Yet, when implemented correctly, the results are powerful.
Case in point, “Dr. Maxwell” recently took over a practice in a smaller southwestern city. The doctor she bought it from was retiring after many years. Dr. Maxwell invested a fortune in new equipment, technology, and décor. The problem: The patient base under her predecessor had been dwindling. There were plenty of patient records, but only a fraction of them were active. Dr. Maxwell needed to reconnect with former patients, and she needed to set herself apart from the other dentists in the area.
Dr. Maxwell enlisted the help of a professional dental marketing company to establish her practice brand, develop a custom website, and train her team. But even with several marketing pieces in place, the puzzle still wasn’t coming together. In Dr. Maxwell’s case, an overall marketing strategy was developed for the practice to implement over the long term. One component of that strategy was a direct mail campaign. During the course of twelve weeks, the campaign targeted prospective patients with professionally designed direct mail pieces. The phones were ringing. Her team was trained to handle the increased phone and patient activity, and she was well on her way to rebuilding the practice patient base.
Marketing, like dentistry, is both an art and a science. There is no single treatment that will cure all dental disease. The same holds true for marketing the dental practice. There is no “silver bullet” technique to effectively market dentistry. It requires a plan, a strategy, and a system that is an integral part of running the business.
Mike Shoun is the President and Owner of Affordable Image Dental Marketing Solutions - a full service marketing company dedicated to the client's overall success.
Mike can be reached at (602) 265-2299 ext. 211, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit www.affordableimage.com for more information
Structuring the Talk in Dental Offices
“The brain is a wonderful organ, it starts working the moment you get up in the morning, and does not stop until you get into the office” - Robert Frost
Daily tasks in the dental practice such as opening the office, starting up all the equipment, checking messages, updating the schedule in the computer, etc. can be considered routine. Most dental office personnel are structured to the point that they want to be able to anticipate their day and not have any surprises. Some may call this being on autopilot. Because the dental day is for the most part pre-scheduled with patients and procedures, no one wants the upsets that can happen to derail a well-planned day.
“If I could just come in and do dentistry all day and then go home, I would have the perfect day.” Anonymous dentist
Having to talk to patients is a necessity in all dental practices. Dentistry is an extroverted business, and by the nature of the services requires better than average communication skills. It is not just about explaining in lay terms the diagnosed treatment - it is about making a connection with words that convey confidence, knowledge and caring. Developing these skills depends on the desire to improve patient interaction plus perfecting communication with practice and role play to hone and polish verbal presentations.
Many dental offices have personnel who are adept at speaking to patients, but lack the same skills when speaking to each other or to the doctor. Communication by conversation in the office can either support morale, efficiency and teamwork, or it can undermine all three.
We have all heard the term “constructive criticism” meant to improve behavior and most often delivered by superiors. Communication in the dental office between team members should be fostered as “constructive conversation” meant to pick up on a problem before it gets out of hand or to spot a team member who needs a kind word or a little help with a task to get them back on the right track.
Allowing or encouraging casual exchanges among co-workers can sometimes bring unexpected rewards in terms of creation of better ideas to complete tasks or to take a moment to teach a skill to a co-worker. Oftentimes these exchanges are viewed as strictly wasting time or socializing. Being able to share ideas informally and in a non-threatening way encourages teamwork and a happy team.
The dental environment is highly structured - being on time and running on schedule is a priority. There is seldom any time for exchanges between team members other than what is concerning a patient. This kind of rigidity can be stifling for those who are creative and want more connection with their peers.
If you are a manager or the CEO dentist, the brief conversations that you have throughout the workday give you a chance to take the internal pulse of the practice, pick up on concerns before they become problems, and be proactive instead of reactive to issues that affect the team performance. This more positive approach helps the dental team feel supported instead of thwarted. In creating improved constructive conversation do the following:
1. Keep conversations brief and superficial unless it is directly about patient care that day.
Don’t do the following:
Want to learn more about team building, treatment presentations and staff communication? Sign up today for a professional business training course offered at McKenzie Management to improve patient and staff communications and successful teams.
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