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10.10.08 Issue #344 Forward This Newsletter To A Colleague

A Private Eye For Your Practice?
by Sally McKenzie CEO
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Where have all the new patients gone? Have you found yourself asking that question lately? It used to be that you could count on a certain number regularly streaming into the practice, but for the past 6 to 12 months you’ve noticed a change, and it’s killing your bottom line.

You prefer to gloss over the facts, disregard the bloodletting and tell yourself that you just need to market your practice more. Blast the airwaves with a cute new jingle. Line the newspaper with some clever prose. Offer a free something or other. It sounds like a good idea because it’s a nice distraction from the real problem: someone or something is cutting new patients out of your practice. I suggest you save your advertising dollars and turn your focus inward. Doctor, it’s time for an internal investigation. Let me explain.

If new patients are not in your chair, they are in someone else’s, and there’s likely a very good reason—perhaps several—as to why. More marketing and advertising might give you a temporary boost, but I can virtually guarantee you’ll be facing the same shortfall a couple of months down the road. You need to discover the “why” behind the loss.

Is something happening when prospective patients call? Is there an issue with your fees, with your location, with parking? Are your policies so regimented they are not worth the trouble for patients? Is the staff unaccommodating? Do they unknowingly give the impression that you don’t want new patients? Your livelihood and your practice depend on knowing why numbers are down.

What if you could send in your own private investigator of sorts? Someone who would quietly evaluate your practice and give you feedback as to what the experience is like from the patient’s point of view—like a “mystery patient”? In the medical community, “mystery patients” have been around for several years. Dentistry is embracing the concept more and more as practices come to realize that they are profoundly dependent upon a satisfied patient base and a steady stream of new patients.

And now McKenzie Management gives dentists the opportunity to view their practices from a patient’s point of view! This program allows you to be an omniscient observer of sorts. You are able to get a much better understanding of how you, your team and your practice come across to patients from an objective standpoint. But most important, the assessment enables you to identify exactly where you and your team can make immediate improvements.

The mystery patients can be used to evaluate staff phone skills and face-to-face interpersonal skills, as well as clinical staff/patient relations, to determine if any of these could be having a negative effect on the practice. The mystery patients sent into practices are experienced and trained specifically for the dental office environment. Moreover, they are fully prepared to evaluate the total experience, which is essential in helping dentists to retain patients, gain referrals and identify training needs.

Telephone assessments are used to evaluate staff strengths and weaknesses in communicating with patients over the telephone. Walk-in visits, in which a prospective mystery patient stops in to talk to front desk staff about the office, are used to evaluate how those face-to-face interactions are handled (critical because nearly 70% of patients leave a practice because of poor customer service). Non-invasive clinical visits enable the dental team to gather feedback on the patient’s perspectives from a clinical standpoint.

Certainly, it requires a fair amount of courage to hire a “private eye” for your practice. Human nature is such that most dentists want to believe that all of their patients are happy, that new patients are clamoring for an appointment and that their staff is simply wonderful. However, the numbers often indicate otherwise.

Yet with information comes power, in this case the power to change. Fortunately, once shortcomings are revealed, they can be promptly corrected. In many cases, staff simply don’t realize how they come across to patients. They don’t understand that their actions are having a negative effect on the office; once they are made aware, in most cases they are ready and willing to make necessary changes. But dentists have to be willing to investigate the problems in order to implement solutions.

Interested in speaking to Sally about your practice concerns? Email her at
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