Feeling the Mid-Career Slump?
by Sally McKenzie CEO
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The “middle” can be a challenging place. It is often the point at which you’re too far from where you’ve come to turn back yet seemingly still a long way from your destination. The middle of anything doesn’t seem to denote much that is positive, “the middle of nowhere,” “middle of the road,” and the dreaded “mid-life crisis.”
Similarly, the mid-point in a dental career can bring great uncertainty, many questions, and frustrations. As the financial struggles, personnel problems, patient issues persist, is it any wonder that mid-career dentists find themselves asking, “Is this all there is?” Where’s the excitement, the enthusiasm, the career satisfaction?
Consider your position on this mid-career path. Are you enjoying the view from the pinnacle of success? Or are you frozen in place, stuck somewhere between merely average and truly excellent? And, if you’re not where you want and feel you should be, are you willing to take the necessary steps to change it? If so, the question then becomes, how? Look at those areas most likely to be sending your practice, and consequently you, into a mid-term slump, starting with patient retention.
We see this scenario routinely in mid-career practices: Everyone is busy. The schedule appears to be bursting at the seams. Hygiene is typically booked out six months. A couple thousand patient records are on file. Therefore, the doctor is convinced that patient retention is perfectly fine. “Busy” is one of those great illusions of the mid-career dental practice, a perception that is not only deceiving but also very expensive. In fact, most dental teams are stunned to learn that 80% of dental practices are losing more patients than they are bringing in new. But upon hearing such statistics the crew will simply turn and tell each other that they must be in that select 20% group because, well, you know, they are crazy with work. Just how crazy? Find out.
How many inactive patient records are taking up space in your files or stored away? Have you increased the number of hygiene days per week in the last year? Is your hygienist’s salary more than 33% of what she/he produces? Finally, have you converted 85% of your emergency patients to comprehensive exams?
If the number of inactive records is enough to open a second practice, you have patient retention problems. If you have not increased hygiene days, you have patient retention concerns. If your hygienist’s salary is more than a third of what she produces and if you haven’t converted 85% of your emergency patients to loyal patients, you have more patients leaving your practice than you have new patients coming in.
While misery loves company, it doesn’t require you hang around this pity party indefinitely. Patient retention is an area in which you can take prompt steps to improve and see immediate results. In most cases, patients have simply drifted away because the recall system, if it exists, is weak. Put recall to work and patients in the chair.
Generate a report from your computer of all patients past due for recall appointments in the last twelve months. Your objective is to reconnect with these patients using a defined strategy that will enable you to set goals and track the results of your efforts.
First, assign a member of the business team, typically the patient coordinator, to take the following steps:
- Contact a certain number of past due patients each day. The coordinator should use a specific script that she/he uses as a guide in making the calls. In addition, she/he should check the patient records to identify a treatment concern noted in the patient’s chart that she/he could reference in the phone call.
- Everyone needs goals, and beyond just making calls, the coordinator should be expected to schedule a definite number of appointments, and follow-up with patients to ensure that a specific number of patients complete treatment.
- The coordinator also assists the hygienist in meeting production objectives by scheduling the hygienist to achieve daily or monthly goals as well as managing a precise number of unscheduled time units in the hygiene schedule per day.
- Finally, the patient coordinator monitors and reports on recall monthly at the team meeting.
You will find many patients who are more than willing to schedule an appointment. They do so because you’ve demonstrated to them that you value this patient relationship and want them to return.
Next week, out of the mid-career slump and into your stride.
Interested in speaking to Sally about your practice concerns? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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