We know patients leave practices, often without our knowledge, for a variety of reasons that may not have anything to do with the quality of care or service. Patients may change insurance plans, move or pass away. Healthy dental practices continually look to attract new patients to keep their practices growing. Without active growth strategies, practices will naturally plateau or decline.
Good business practices include tracking retention and attrition to keep a pulse on what strategies are effective for attracting and retaining patients and whether new strategies should be implemented. The following key strategies are both accessible and easy to implement.
Make room in your schedule for the number of new patients the practice needs and anticipates.
It is easier to release an unfilled new patient appointment several days or a week ahead if not booked than to try and fit a new patient into a full schedule. There is a small window of time in which new patients are generally willing to wait to secure an appointment before going elsewhere. This is especially important for practices that have new patients begin in the hygiene room. Anticipate new patient needs six months out to support the success of your internal and external marketing efforts.
Specifically target particular age groups in your new patient strategies.
Consider the age demographic of your patient population and your goals for growth. A practice with patients under the age of 50 may have few restorative dental needs so they contribute to the hygiene schedule but less so to the restorative schedule. Alternatively, patients with potential upcoming restorative needs are necessary as the mature patient population completes treatment or ages out of the practice.
Make your clinical philosophy and patient approach known to help draw patients who may be a good fit.
An example would be to share your dental treatment planning approach as either anticipative or reactive on your website and through other marketing efforts. For example, patients planning their retirement and lack of future dental insurance will appreciate a plan to crown a tooth with a large, cracked amalgam rather than waiting until it breaks. When patients self-select your practice due to alignment with your clinical philosophy, treatment plan discussions are easier and case acceptance increases.
Examine the quantity and quality of patients that insurance benefit plans provide.
It is wise to periodically review the insurance plans you participate in to determine which plans make sense for the current state of your practice. Over time, established practices may discontinue or limit participation if their members don’t fit a clinical philosophy, the reimbursement rates are not competitive, or the management of the plan is too time-consuming for the production level. In this case, an alternate strategy would ideally be implemented ahead of the plan change to decrease negative production effects on the practice.
Get feedback from your current satisfied patients.
Evaluate how your internal referrals contribute to the growth of new patients in your practice. One informal way to evaluate this is by the number of compliments you and your team receive from patients. They can be in the form of in-person verbal compliments, online reviews and testimonials, and the general connection that your patents engage in with you. If you find this area lacking, customer service is one of the top areas to review. Is everyone on the team aware of the standards of customer service in your practice and what good customer service may mean?
In my role as a dental practice consultant with a large dental supply company for over 11 years, I visited and observed dental practices first-hand in order to provide feedback and training. One practice I observed had a new front desk team member who chose the anticipated arrival time of a new patient to leave the front desk to shred old EOBs. I ended up greeting the new patient and having a team meeting discussion about the definition of customer service and downtime task management.
Build your website and online presence, then track and monitor new patient results.
Be sure your customer service, clinical approach, and ability to connect with like-minded people is highlighted more than the list of specific procedures you provide. Patients tend to make decisions more on the anticipated experience of their dental visit than clinical abilities, especially for general practices.
In order to make these strategies truly benefit your practice, establish a consistent, practice-wide understanding of how strategies will be implemented. Be sure that each team member is clear about his or her role in bringing new patients into the practice. Plan for team meetings that may be needed to get everyone on the same page and teach the necessary communication skills. As new team members come into the practice, provide them with the same training to continue the success of your new patient growth.
Meet the Author
Dental Practice Consultant
Karen Burnett, RDH, MA
Aldrich CPAs + Advisors LLP
For Karen Burnett, enthusiasm for dentistry includes over 30 years of experience ranging from dental assisting and dental hygiene to more than 18 years of experience in dental practice coaching. She takes pride in providing results-oriented business solutions, using a tailored approach for the growth of individuals and teams. She is skilled in internal and... Read more Karen Burnett, RDH, MA
- Dental business management
- Hygiene program profitability and analysis
- Treatment presentation and incomplete treatment follow-up
- New patient recruitment and retention
- Practice administration