Are All Patients Equal?
By Scott McDonald
If we ask this question from the political or human rights point of view, the answer is a resounding, “YES!” Indeed, every patient deserves to be treated with respect, professional courtesy, and clinical excellence. But from a more pragmatic perspective, not all POTENTIAL patients have the same value to a practice.
While it goes unsaid, some patients cost the practice much more to treat than others. These people may be a problem in collections. We have to run them down, follow-up with emotional phone calls, and even legal claims. Others may be emotionally abusive, causing stress and time to be wasted by doctor and staff. Therefore, we can easily see how some patients may cost us more to treat. But what about POTENTIAL patients?
What if you knew there was a patient out there who was easy to treat, grateful for your service, willing to pay, and anxious to refer their friends and neighbors? Well, of course we would want them in our practices! Ironically, we often and unknowingly send out signals that we don’t want THIS kind of patient. The message goes out through our staffs, our advertisements, and out of our own actions. We call it, “Fighting for the Bottom”.
Our most successful strategies for attracting the wrong patient:
- Discount indiscriminately
- Avoid asking for referrals
- Target renters versus home-owners
- Favor the young and beautiful
- Eliminate rewards of any kind
As a demographic research company, we help dentists learn more about their locations and how to promote practices. So what do we know about patients? We don’t know dentistry but we do understand internal and external marketing.
There are households where people wait for the mail to arrive with scissors in hand waiting for the discounts. These bargain hunters have no loyalty to their grocery store, dry cleaner, or dentist. As long as there is an offer, they will take it. If we consider that less than 1% of recipients of the average dental mailer respond, you can be sure that the majority of the respondents will be shoppers IF the primary motivation is a discount.
Should discounts NEVER be used? Of course not! But we know far too many dentists who use them indiscriminately.
Avoid Asking for Referrals
Not only are referrals the most effective way of getting new patients, it is the most effective way to get GOOD patients. Ironically, some dentists and their staffs get the idea that if they don’t have to TALK to people throughout the course of treatment, it was a good day. The opposite is true.
Most people don’t know you WANT them to refer unless you ask. Don’t let a sign ask for you. Don’t depend upon a form, letter, or e-mail. Ask for referrals yourself. Referred patients are better referrers themselves, have a better “pay” rate, and tend to appreciate your treatment much more. Those that don’t come through referral TEND to be more difficult to motivate and more difficult to collect.
Target Renters versus Home Owners
The dirty little secret about New Resident Mailing Lists is that they are going to have four times as many renters as owners. The reason is simple. Renters move more often than owners. This is not to say that people who rent are inherently flakey. Rather, they TEND to have poorer credit worthiness and to be less permanent. That is why all mailings, whether focusing upon new residents or not, should depend mostly upon single-family homes (SFDUs) that are owner-occupied rather than renters. True, the list may cost more but the return on the investment will be superior.
Favor the Young and the Beautiful
Everyone would rather look at pretty people who are young and healthy. However, if you stop to think about it, these are not your best patients. Because they are young, they may have little dental need and may also lack money. So, who REALLY needs dental care and can afford it? Well, they look a little more like you and me. So why do we feature “perfect people” in our ads? There is a thin line between creating an atmosphere in which these models stop becoming aspiration figures and start becoming unattainable perfection.
Suggestion: When using models in your advertisements, consider differing ages, genders, races, and “types” of models. Glamour can be good but it can also put people off who are nervous about being judged.
Eliminate Rewards of Any Kind
We know that this can sound petty but it is true. Some of your best patients seek care from YOU because they get something back. Most often it is a personal recognition of some kind. It is remembering the name of their dog or cat. It is mentioning their husband’s or their wife’s hobby. It is talking about their kids for a moment. These are little perks that seem to be fading in many dental practices and may seem to be inefficient. They can even make you a little late for the next patient. Although, when eliminating the little personal “rewards” of coming in to your practice, you run the risk of attracting ONLY those patients who don’t care about investing in a relationship with you.
Scott McDonald is the largest provider of dental marketing research to dental practices. For more information firstname.lastname@example.org
While our Country accepts the premise that “all men are created equal”, we have to confess that all dental patients are not created equal. In order to attract the best patients, we must do those things that they will notice. At the same time, we must be selective on who we choose and concentrate our time and our efforts on those patients.