New dental patients are not the answer.

October 13, 2020

How much did you spend last month trying to acquire new patients? $1,000? $3,000? $5,000? More? How much in the last year?

The more important questions: Did your investment pay off? How can you know? Is there even a way to measure whether what you spent resulted in a sustainable and profitable increase in new patients? Finally: Is adding new patients even the best way to grow your practice? The truth might hurt a little, but it’s time to talk about your “leaking bucket.” Imagine a bucket full of holes being topped to the brim with water. Your job is to get all of that water to another container without losing one drop. Not going to happen, right? No matter how fast you act, there’s a 100% chance that you are going to lose some water, and probably lots of it. The only way to stop the leaks is to plug the holes.

The Problem with New Patients

Isn’t adding new patients the fastest, most direct way to increase production and practice revenue? Seems logical, but let’s explore this assumption using the power of data. Only two actions increase production in a dental practice. That’s right, only two:

· Increase the total number of patients, or

· Increase the amount of production per patient per visit.

According to Dental Intelligence Executive VP of Finance Christopher Toyn, “In the first 4-5 years in a practice there is a lot of volatility in growth. After this, most practices plateau.”

This is when panic can set in and the impulse, understandably, is to increase marketing spend in order to drive more patients to the practice.

“Most practices do pretty well in adding new patients. What they don’t do as well is retaining and rescheduling both new and existing patients. Even with high growth in new patients, most practices also have a high new patient attrition rate, which leads to a plateau or even a decline in overall growth.”- Christopher Toyn, Dental Intelligence Executive VP of Finance

So, why aren’t new patients the best way to grow your practice? It’s probably important to note that new patients need dental care just as much as existing patients do. Adding patients is great way to build and grow your practice, if done as part of an overall growth strategy.

But consider the data thousands of U.S.- based practices tells us about new patients:

  •  They have a much higher rate of appointment cancellation.
  •  They’re more likely to not accept or not schedule treatment, and also more likely to cancel before receiving needed treatment.
  •  New patients are more difficult to retain and more likely to leave when a new offer comes along from another dentist.
  •  Extra time is needed to “onboard” new patients, which impacts production per hour. Think office tour, developing relationship, insurance verification, paperwork, and building rapport with staff.

The reality: So many practices are trying to fill a leaking bucket instead of plugging its holes. Why fill a leaking bucket with water (new patients)? First, stop the leaks (focus on scheduling/treating existing patients) and then, if there is still room on the schedule, strategically add new patients.

woman looking at laptop and excited

The secret is…there is no secret

If adding new patients is not the best way to increase production and grow your practice, what is? Is there a proven, reliable approach to accomplishing these important goals?

Let’s follow the progress of a dental practice owner in Arizona who recently shared an experience with us.

He asked his office manager how many of their patients were currently scheduled. “All of them!” was her immediate response. He had seen the data beforehand that indicated otherwise, so he pressed her. “All of them? As in, 100% of our active patients have an upcoming appointment?”

The office manager was shocked when the owner explained that only 40% of the active patients had upcoming appointments scheduled.

At many practices the percentage is even lower.

Where are growth opportunities?

1. Pre-appointment percentage.

This is the percentage of active patients (seen in the past 18 months) who currently have a scheduled appointment. This is where your most important growth opportunities are hiding. If you’re not looking at this every month, you are wasting dollars.

Why? Our analysis has shown that when a practice focuses on keeping Pre-appointment percentage at 65% or higher, it significantly reduces patient attrition, while saving thousands of dollars annually on recall efforts and new patient marketing.

Success Story: The practice in Arizona mentioned above went from a pre-appointment percentage of 40% to over 90% in just one year. Once they had the right information, they could take action to correct the issue. But when they were driving blind, they didn’t know how to correct the problem. Tip: They made such a dramatic improvement in just 12 months by focusing on hygiene re-appointment. Hygiene reappointment percentage is defined as the percentage of hygiene visit patients who schedule their next hygiene appointment before leaving the practice. This has one of the most significant impacts on the percentage of patients who are getting rescheduled.

2. Broken appointment percentage.

Often, we’re concerned when we walk in the door on Monday and discover a bunch of cancelled appointments or no-shows. The bigger concern, though, is if those cancelled appointments that haven’t been rescheduled.

Ask questions: How many cancelled appointments have been rescheduled? Do you know, or know how to find out? When reviewing this number, often 50% or more of patients who cancelled an appointment haven’t been rescheduled.

Take action: If only 20% of your active patients have future scheduled appointments, you should be jumping up and down with excitement! This means you have HUGE opportunities!

Recap: Ask yourself one last question

Are you spending time, money and energy on trying to attract new patients when there is likely much greater value to your practice from rescheduling existing patients who don’t have a scheduled appointment? Some practices have millions of dollars in unscheduled treatment with no focus on recapturing those patients. Don’t be one of them.

man looking at a laptop and excited

Ready for 5 steps to get started?

  1. Analyze your current situation. It’s difficult to measure progress if you don’t know your starting point. Before you spend a lot of effort on marketing to new patients, first discover where you are.
  2. Plug the holes. Identify your current percentage. How many patients are rescheduling after a hygiene appointment?
  3. Create a plan for recapturing those patients. Measure your efforts. Be specific. For example: What is the right system for recapturing cancelled/unscheduled patients? How do you determine which patients are the most important to call? Who should be making these phone calls? How will you view the information gathered?
  4. Determine your system. Implement it. Measure results. Make adjustments as needed, and continue to monitor progress.
  5.  Don’t forget to celebrate success! Are you trying to grow your practice? Even though that may seem impossible in 2020, you absolutely can enjoy significant success this year, and even more so in 2021.

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Scott Livingston is the Director of Communications for Dental Intelligence. His focus is on helping the company tell the story of how actionable data can measurably improve patient care, team collaboration and dental practice profitability. Outside of work, Scott enjoys spending time with his family, hiking the many trails in Utah, and serving others in his church and local community. To learn more about Dental Intelligence and to request a no-cost practice analysis, visit dentalintel.com