Bulletin, June 2007

Exclusively to Clients and Friends
of Advanced Practice Management

The Dental Dow Jones:

First quarter 2007 shows practice production up 4.4% and collections up 4.6%. This represents a little more brisk growth than the stats showed in 2006 (practice production up 3.3% and collections up 1.6%). It’s been driven by a 2.6% increase in patient exams including new patients being up about 9%. Unwanted downtime in the Doctors’ schedules decreased by about four hours per month in the typical office.

The average accounts receivable ratio now is about 1.2. Another way of putting that is that it takes about 1.2 months for the average bill to be paid. Front desk collections are averaging 33%.

“Imagine…the Sheer, Unbridled Joy of consistently attracting More Ideal New Patients than you can handle…”*

Tantalizing, huh? Every day you receive direct mail that touts (as above) “A waiting room full of new patients” or “150 new patients a month” or something to that effect.
The tone of these ads is similar to what you’ll see for hair loss replacement, weight loss, “body enhancement,” or miracle cures. For Doctors anxious to fill their chairs, the advertisers are telling them exactly what they want to hear. Unfortunately, they are more often selling hype and hope than substance.

The truth about new patient development:

Through our client base of 240+ practices we’re able to watch very closely what’s working or not working. We have clients trying practically any advertising or referral generation scheme you’ve heard of. We keep an open mind and we learn from the failures as well as the successes.We are proud to be part of the Upper Midwest Dental Community and our success depends on our reputation. Our reputation depends on being able to live up to our promises in the short and long run.

So after 25+ years of actively observing, learning and experimenting, I can tell you this truth about new patient development: It is possible to increase the number of new patients; it just isn’t easy! Advertising works but it doesn’t work perfectly. Promises of greatly enhancing patient referral activity through cookie machines, hot towels, hand waxes and other “cute” ideas don’t pan out.

The same type of advertising can work smashingly in one area and fall absolutely flat in another. We’ve had clients bring in scores and even hundreds of new patients through our advertising recommendations. However, we’d never be so careless as to promise spectacular results to Dentists across the board. Can you imagine a fishing guide who said, “Yeah, anyone who gets in my boat will always get their limit.” Most experienced fishermen would know that a guide who said that is full of it. A good guide helps narrow the possibilities, gets you on the right part of the lake, helps you understand the lake and gives you the best chance of hauling in a catch. That’s the approach we use when working with clients in increasing new patients.

When professional advertising was first made legal (back in the late 70s) the first few Dentists who advertised in the Yellow Pages were stigmatized. They were “Yellow Page Dentists.” However, I can tell you they got great results. They were like the first fishermen to cast a lure into Basswood Lake. Then, almost everyone advertised in the Yellow Pages and the results were less impressive. The moral of the story: You have to do something that’s on the edge, something that’s slightly uncomfortable in order to get to the competitive edge, reach the public and get measurable results.

Also, advertising patients are less trusting than referral patients. That doesn’t mean they are not worthwhile though. All of us have responded to advertising and that doesn’t necessarily make us trailer trash! Yes, you get some shoppers when you do direct response advertising but you also get some good families too. The trouble is, you might remember the clinkers but not good ones.

Encouraging patient referrals can work but very few offices consistently and tactfully encourage referral behavior on the part of the patients. The most practical way of encouraging patient referrals I’ve found is our “Dental Health Month” mailings. Even this does not work every time. Last February we had some clients who got 50+ new patients and others who got fewer than four…with virtually the same mailing.

Good new patient development is often more a matter of finding 100 ideas to get you one more new patient than finding one idea to get you 100 new patients. The #1 way any dentist can ensure lots of new patients is to be in a highly visible location in a fast growing community. If you are located in a professional building in a mature (not growing) city or suburb and are not willing to participate with Delta, you’re going to have a challenge attracting a lot of new patients no matter how good you are, how good your staff is and how nice your facility is.

We’ve seen good results by working with clients just on their new patient entry. We have several case histories in the past year by which just changing the way new patients are greeted on the phone and brought into the practice, we increased the number of new patients by 5 to 10 per month. Many of you are aware of this through our “Secret Shoppers.” Our advice works so make sure that you and your staff are following it! Also, it’s important to get new patients in at a prime time and on a timely basis. We recently did a Secret Shopper for a practice where the Doctor is averaging fewer than six new patients per month. The potential new patient caller would have to wait until September to get a 4:00 appointment! So new patient development isn’t always about generating demand; it’s often about increasing prime time capacity.

The best and most predictable way to bring new patients into a practice is to acquire another practice. Mature areas with lots of competition also are more likely to have older practices that will eventually be for sale. So Doctors in the outer ring suburbs are more likely to draw new patients but there are no practices to buy. Practices in mature areas can find others whose patients they can merge with their base. Everyone has their relative advantages and disadvantages. The trick is what has the best chance of working in your situation. That’s our job!

If you are considering acting on a new advertising plan, please check with us. Chances are we have some background knowledge or experience with it. We can offer suggestions that will increase the chance of your success. In the meantime, beware of those who are much better at selling their own services than yours!

*This is an actual headline from a recent mailing to Dentists.

Good times ahead? Off to a good start in 2007:

Our statistics for January 2007 show area practices were off to a leaping start. Compared to January 2006, practice production is up 13% and collections are up 12%. This was driven by an 18% increase in crown and bridge. After a slow Fall, January was a big month for many offices. Let’s hope there will be many more to come!

Your Website:

About a third of Minnesota Dentists have websites.

If you don’t already have a website, we believe that it’s time you do.

Over the past few years, most websites for Dentists have been done by friends, patients, brothers-in-law, etc. Someone who “knows how to do websites.” I feel the market has evolved beyond that stage. You need to hire professionals who know how to do Dental website designs, know how people search for Dentists and how to design them to move people into your office. We can refer you to professional help.

As part of our services, we are now checking out our clients’ websites on a routine basis.

Having a website won’t mean you’ll get hundreds of new patients per month but our experience tells us that having a website can bring about two to four new patients per month to the typical office.

Yours truly,