Take Action During Tough Times
by Sally McKenzie CEO
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Well, here we go again. It seems as though most of the country had barely recovered from the last recession only to be facing yet another economic downturn. Negative economic news is virtually everywhere. Although there are pockets around the nation that seem to be skirting the worst of the latest economic woes, many dentists are feeling the pinch.
When the economy takes a turn for the worse, consumer focus shifts from luxury to necessity, from elective care to need-based care. It’s going to be tougher to sell those high-dollar cosmetic cases. Patients will be less inclined to stay with your practice if you are not on their company’s insurance plan. You will likely feel the pain of more no-shows and cancellations. But this is not the time to wallow in despair.
You may not be able to completely recession-proof your practice, but you can certainly minimize the impact if you follow what I consider to be the Four Tenets of Tough Times.
Tenet #1 – Be Flexible
This isn’t the time for hardliners. Tough times require a willingness to be flexible and an openness to do things a little differently, at least temporarily. For example, you may be philosophically opposed to participating in insurance plans, but patients are paying much closer attention to who is on their plans and who isn’t. If you’re losing patients or fewer new patients are scheduling, it’s time to reconsider your hard-line approach. Research the major employers in your area and find out what type of insurance they offer. What companies do the patients you’ve lost work for? Did they leave because you’re not on their plan?
If you do begin to accept assignment of benefits, send a letter to all your patients including those that have left your practice. You’ll likely find that the defectors never really wanted to abandon your office in the first place and would be glad to return.
Look at your schedule and adjust for down times. If the office is a tomb from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. this is a drain on the dollars. Consider condensing your schedule, working a longer morning shift and a shorter afternoon shift, such as from 8:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. This will make it easier for working patients to see you during their lunch hours, and staff won’t be sitting around. Or, if you can keep three days full but the fourth is riddled with holes, cut back to three days.
Tenet #2--Get Real & Get Paid
Look at your fees. Are yours higher than your competition? You may feel your practice is worth the extra money, but unless patients are buying into your high-dollar philosophy, you’ll have a tough time keeping patient flow. It’s simply the realities of the current marketplace.
Consider foregoing an increase in fees this year. Send a letter to your patients thanking them for their loyalty to your practice. Take the opportunity to tell them that you are sensitive to the fact that many patients are experiencing difficulties as a result of the current economy. And in an effort to be responsive to the needs of your patients, your office is going to hold the line on fees this year, even though costs have increased for everyone, including your practice.
Next, make it easy for patients to pursue treatment. You may not be providing as much elective dentistry, but patients still have dental needs. Continue to diagnose based on what the patient needs to ensure the greatest level of oral health. Don’t fall into the trap of diagnosing just what you believe the patient can afford. The recession will be temporary, but dental needs and wants will remain. The patient may not pursue an entire treatment plan at this point, but as the economy improves so too will the opportunities to provide both necessary and elective care.
That being said, you do have an obligation to make it as easy as possible for patients to pursue treatment immediately. Provide treatment financing options, such as CareCredit, that will help the patient afford recommended care. A cash-based practice is a worthy goal to pursue when the economy is thriving, but there are times, such as now, when you simply have to get real in order to get paid.
Next week, avoid the #1 recession mistake.
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