Are you seeing a decrease in production and/or new patients?

Here are four ways to combat this, and it’s all internal, without a lot of dollars to spend.

  1. Education
  2. Communication
  3. Recall and Reactivation
  4. Referrals

The lowest hanging fruit in any practice is that of your existing patients. They are a source of more production and referrals, but, just because you have existing patients, it doesn’t mean that production comes to you instantly. You’ve probably already figured that out which is why you are reading this.

One advantage that you have with your patients is that they already know, like and trust you. These are things that must be won with a new patient and it takes money and time to make this happen.

What you want to do now is work on building that relationship to create more loyalty. Creating loyalty and building your patients’ relationship with you and your team will go a long way in fortifying future revenue. It will make it easier for them to accept and follow through with treatment.

When your patients feel like they know you and trust you, they are more apt to listen to what you are telling them and follow through with your recommendations. Think about this for a moment. Go back to the last time you purchased a new car. You may have talked with several different salespeople, but I can bet the dealership/salesperson you purchased your car from was one where they made you feel like they understood your needs, took care of you, and you felt you could trust them. Sold!

The best way to build your patients’ relationships in your dental practice is through communication and education.

Let’s talk about education first which also has a communication element.

Dental offices, in general, could do a much better job of educating the patient. The dentists and her or his team have so much knowledge, but the patient has none of this, or only what they managed to research on the internet. : )

The more information relative to the patient’s condition (either right now or looming in the future) you can impart through the hygienists in the patient’s cleaning visits and/or the dentists in exams and procedures will help build the relationship. Even if you sound like a broken record and have to repeat yourself each and every visit, you still want to keep informing. Furthermore, even though you may have told the patient the last time they were in, a couple things could have happened. First, they may not have heard you. Second, they may not remember. It’s important you let your patients know what you believe and how it can help them if they take action or hurt them if they don’t. Education will strengthen their bond with you and make them feel confident to move forward when the time comes. Tell them what you know!

As a side note, we help many practices get Google reviews. One of the most repeated five-star comments we see is how much patients appreciate the time the doctor spent to actually talk with them, explain their condition and recommended treatment options. It’s amazing! People just want someone to understand them and feel like someone cares. FYI: Usually these comments are also followed by “I’ll never go anywhere else” or “I recommend them to everyone I know.” So simple, right?

Now, let’s talk more about communication.

One of the easiest methods of patient communication is a monthly email or e-newsletter. Of course, not everyone will be your target for this type of communication but, in the end, it is a numbers game. The more patients you have in your database, the more patients will see your email.

When we do this for our dentists, we see an average open rate of about 35-40%. That’s pretty darn good. The results from sending these are even better. We are getting appointment requests and referrals. You can do this too.

There are several important things to know, though.

  • You’ll need some type of communication platform, such as Solution Reach or Lighthouse, which will tie into your practice management system, or Constant Contact, or MailChimp which will not.
  • You want to make it personal. Be sure to include information about you and your team (so your patients get to know, like, and trust you more). Good things to talk about are birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, other life events, continuing education, giving back, etc.
  • You want to thank those patients who gave you referrals (first name and last initial only) and talk about your referral program.
  • You want to welcome any new patients (they will love to see their name on the list—again, first name and last initial).
  • If you do any contests or giveaways, include info about these as well as a picture of you and the winner of the contest when it is drawn.
  • You want to include a dental tip or fact.
  • You want to include any special offers you might have going on.
  • You want to send these every month so your patient gets used to receiving them.

The third item I want to discuss is your recall and reactivation process.

Almost every practice has some sort of system for recall and reactivation. Some are automated. Some are manual. Some use a combination of both. What we find, though, is that most of those systems fall short and are leaving patients out in no man’s land as well as leaving money on the table.

Part of the problem is not having a dedicated person who handles the process. This ends up making the process more of something that’s done when the schedule falls apart or when there is a moment here and there. This is erratic and inefficient. Having one person who is responsible for it, and has been allocated the time necessary, will make all the difference in the world and is bound to add more patients than you’ve ever had each month back in hygiene.

Frequency is also key. It has been said that we need to see something anywhere from 5-12 times before we take action. Knowing this should make you rethink the way you are handling this process. I would be contacting that patient who’s fallen off the schedule every month for at least a year until they get back on the schedule or scream “Uncle!” Let’s face it, we all have good intentions that get derailed all too easily these days. Your patients are no different.

You will also want to vary your methods of contact. Use email, text, phone calls and postcards or letters. Everyone has their communication preference. If you are hitting on all of them you are sure to increase your chances.

Lastly, let’s talk about referrals.

Of course, you get referrals from patients—any great practice should—but are you really cultivating all the referrals you should be getting? Are all of your good patients being asked for referrals?

Let’s do the math to see if this could be a HUGE opportunity for you (and I’m betting it is!).

Take the number of your active patients (those who have been in within 18 months) in your database and divide this number by the average number of new patient referrals you get each month.

As an example, let’s say you have 1,000 active patients and you get on average 15 referrals per month. 15/1000=.015. You are only getting .015% of your active patients to refer to you. There is a ton of room for potential here.

A good referral rate is 3% which seems so low, doesn’t it? Imagine what an impact that would have on this practice. It would double those new patient referral numbers each month and give you more people to ask for referrals!

You need a system or process that everyone follows for getting referrals. Just because you have a referral program doesn’t mean your patients know about it and are being asked. Asking for referrals needs to be a process just like your recall and reactivation does. There needs be a person or people responsible and accountable in order to make it work.

You want to make it easy for your team to ask for referrals. The best way we’ve found to do this is by giving the patient a small gift such as a coffee mug, water bottle, etc., along with some referral cards, asking for the referral and talking about your referral program if you have one. It’s really that simple. You just have to ask!

Author: Kathy Jiamboi

Owner of Creativedge Marketing, where growth-oriented dentists find dental practice marketing strategies and advice to take their practice to a new and higher level.

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