If you were to ask a thousand practice owners what they need to grow their dental practice, odds are that 999 of them would come back with the same answer: “We need to increase the number of new patients.” And they wouldn’t be completely wrong.
But they wouldn’t be completely right either. New patients are a necessary part of practice growth, but they’re only one little part—and far from the most important part. Practice growth, or profitability, is the result of many different moving pieces.
Of course, it’s not very helpful to just say “it’s complicated,” no matter how true. So we’ve broken down all those moving parts into what we call the Dental Intelligence Profitability Formula:
Visits x Production Per Visit x Collection Percentage - Overhead = Profits
As you can see, new patients are only a small part of your potential visits. And visits, in turn, only tell half of the story of your production. In this post, we’re going to dive into visits and uncover all the other pieces the lead to that important metric. Let’s take a closer look at the five steps that anyone—from single location practices to multi-state DSOs—can take to increase their visits and, ultimately, profits.
Of course you need new patients to grow your practice. We love new patients. New patients are great. But they’re also kind of the worst.
Getting new patients is a ton of work. You need to market effectively, make your website clean and user-friendly, ensure your online information is accurate and up-to-date, and make it as easy as possible for new patients to schedule with you. Once a new patient is in your office, you have to spend time and energy getting them into your system, building trust, and so on. And after all that—the marketing spend, the extra paperwork for your staff, the effort to put on your very best chairside manner—new patients are still less likely to keep appointments, accept diagnosed treatment, or schedule a follow-up appointment. That’s exhausting just to write.
Even when you do all this well, new patients are enough on their own to grow your practice. Luckily, there is a lot of other low hanging fruit on your books that can help grow your practice faster and with less effort.
What percentage of your patients are walking out your door without a follow-up appointment? Unless you’re tracking your re-appointment rate closely, it’s probably more than you think. In 2018, the average hygiene re-appointment rate was 74%. That’s not bad, but losing over a quarter of your hygiene patients each month isn’t good either. Sure, you’ll be able to reschedule some of those you didn’t re-appoint, but not many. Maybe half.
The solution is to keep close track of your re-appointment rate. Make it a focus for your office. Make sure everyone knows where the office stands and what the goal is. Track your progress and share the success with your team (your Morning Huddle is a great time to do this). So often, we see practices make huge strides in their re-appointment rate just by bringing attention to it.
Bonus tip: identify the hygienists with the best re-appointment percentage and ask them to share tips with the rest of your staff. You’ll see more positive change by highlighting successes than by singling out failings.
Re-Activation and Pre-Appointment
Here’s another number that may surprise you: for the average dentist practice only half of their active patients have a scheduled appointment. That doesn’t even include the hundreds or sometimes even thousands of inactive patients who may be on your records. Often these unscheduled patients have diagnosed treatment they need in order to get healthy.
The best way to go about getting these patients back on the schedule isn’t to just indiscriminately call down a list of all of them. Instead, you should focus your efforts on as specifically as possible. Make a few lists of your ideal patients and focus on them (our Patient Finder feature makes this a breeze). You can target patients with unscheduled crowns, patients with unscheduled treatment worth more than $1,000, or patients with favorable insurance, just to give you a few ideas. Exactly what kind of patients make the list will be different from practice to practice, but the more focused you are at reactivating patients, the faster you will be able to grow your practice.
Do you know what’s better than calling lists of patients with unscheduled treatment? Getting that treatment scheduled before the patient ever leaves the building. You’ll never have a better opportunity to get your patient scheduled than while they’re sitting in your office. Once they leave, life gets in the way. They get busy. Change phone numbers. Get picked off by a competitor.
Whatever the reason, any time a patient walks out the door without accepting and scheduling their treatment, your chance of getting them back into the chair drops significantly. By measuring your case acceptance, you’ll be able to see what works and what doesn’t. And then you can problem-solve. Maybe one doctor or assistant has a higher case acceptance rate. Have them share their insights. Maybe you see a higher rate when you handle the transition to the treatment coordinator a certain way. Make that method standard procedure. Maybe one doctor and assistant tend to get a higher acceptance rate when they work together. Pair them up more often. Anything you can do to improve your case acceptance will only help increase your visits and your bottom line.
Reduce Broken Appointments
There are several obvious ways to reduce broken appointments. You’re probably already employing one or more.
- Schedule the follow-up as soon as possible
- Utilize reminder cards
- Confirm the appointment the day before (automated is better)
- Make rescheduling simple and painless
But what about patients that don’t respond well to your efforts to reduce broken appointments? Every practice has chronic offenders, patients who rarely seem to keep their appointments no matter what steps you take to remind them. Rather than wasting energy chasing down and rehabilitating those patients, you’re usually better off focusing on filling your schedule with patients who value your time. As you use the tips discussed above to increase your visits and fill your schedule with patients who consistently keep their appointments, those less reliable patients will naturally weed themselves out. Problem solved.