6.3.11 Issue #482 info@mckenziemgmt.com 1-877-777-6151 Forward This Newsletter

Carol Tekavec, RDH
Hygiene Consultant
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You Have New Patients! Now How Do You Keep Them?
By Carol Tekavec, RDH

New patients are vital to any successful practice. Dentists know that traffic through the door spells dollars in the bank account. The monetary value of a new patient to a practice is difficult to quantify exactly, however many believe that the average new patient will likely need between $1000-$1500 worth of treatment. (In some areas of the country the amount may be much more.) Outside marketing, internal marketing, satisfied patient referrals, web pages, Facebook, Twitter, and even the good old phone book can be important sources for new people in your practice. And now, congratulations! Your strategies have worked and an expectant new patient sits in your chair, looking to you to take care of his dental needs.

Unfortunately, while that new person is arriving in the front door, a former patient is leaving out the back. What happened between the time you first met that patient-of-record and their decision to leave the practice? Let’s look at a few possible causes.

Chaotic Scheduling
When new patients come to the office, the entire staff plays a role in treating them correctly and making sure they have a reason to keep coming back. Haphazard scheduling is one way to ruin a new patient relationship, before it ever gets a chance to get going. New patients deserve to have the undivided attention of the dentist for a designated period of time, before they have radiographs or prophys.

Needed x-rays can be ordered by the dentist after a brief visual exam, and a full exam can take place once they are exposed. Ideally any “cleaning” the patient requires should take place at a separate visit, after the patient’s periodontal condition has been evaluated. It is difficult to keep patients coming back if they find out that the pumice prophy they had been receiving at their previous office is not what your office considers to be appropriate periodontal care - especially if they don’t understand why. It can be worse if new patients are always scheduled through the hygiene department. Patients who come to the hygienist first may be shocked to discover they have periodontal disease and can be distrustful and resistant to treatment. They may believe that the office is just “saying that to get money.” Couple that with a common resistance to having x-rays, and you have a patient that is already half out the door before the dentist even says hello.

If a separate hygiene appointment is not possible, at least schedule the patient with the dentist first. The patient has a chance, however brief, to meet and develop an initial relationship with the doctor, and then on to the hygienist after the dentist’s exam. If periodontal disease is discovered, the hygienist can reinforce what the dentist has explained to the patient, and perhaps begin with one quadrant of root planing.

Doctor overbooking is another scheduling concern that can damage patient retention. If the dentist is overscheduled, s/he will be forced to leave a patient in the chair while s/he attends to another. While this is typically not a problem if it involves a brief “recall” exam, it is an issue if the dentist is getting up and down frequently to try to diagnose or treat multiple patients at the same time. Patients wonder where the dentist is going and why s/he is gone so long during their supposed designated appointment time. It is inconsiderate and a detriment to the practice to leave patients sitting in the chair when they are expecting their treatment to be completed. Leaving patients for long periods makes them think you are just too busy for them.

Ignoring A Patient’s Primary Concern
There is a reason a patient has come to your office, and once you discover what that is, that reason needs to become your primary focus when dealing with that patient. A dentist can simply ask, “What brings you to our office?”  Whatever the patient says is likely his/her primary concern, and therefore should be the first thing the dentist addresses when eventually working up a treatment plan for that person. For example, if the patient says, “I don’t like the looks of my front teeth,” any treatment for #8 and #9 must be first on the priority list. Even if the patient has three abscesses and two posterior teeth decayed to the gumline, and #8 and #9 simply have uneven incisals that can be corrected with a little enamelplasty, the front teeth need to come first.    Ignoring a patient’s primary concerns make a patient think you do not really care about them. Be sure that when working up the case, the patient’s priorities are put first. Patients whose primary needs are ignored leave the practice.

Office Discord
You may not think that your patients notice, but if there is tension or problems among the staff at the office, your patients will sense it. Likewise, if staff members are rude to one another or show in other ways that they are not getting along, it makes patients uncomfortable. In a professional office all staff members treat one another with courtesy, regardless of how they are feeling. Personal issues must be left at home and interoffice disputes must be handled away from patient hearing. Patients are uncomfortable having treatment where staff members appear to not get along. If they don’t feel comfortable, you can be sure they will be inclined to find a place where they do.

These are just three possible causes for patients leaving a practice. There are certainly many more, and future articles will explore them. Keep in mind that getting new patients to the office is an important aspect of any successful practice. Keeping the patients you have is equally important.

Carol Tekavec RDH is the director of Hygiene for McKenzie Management.  Carol can improve your hygiene department in just one day of training “in your office”.  Interested in knowing more about how to improve your hygiene department?  Email hygiene@mckenziemgmt.com.

Carol is also a speaker on hygiene efficiency and profitability for McKenzie Management. Interested in having Carol speak to your dental society or study club?  Click here

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