Making numbers count!

Sept. 1, 2002
Changing times can mean unpredictable results. Our business goal is a steady increase in net income. Without new patients, a practice can produce enough from recalls to be busy for about 18 months. New patients, then, are the lifeblood of a practice.

Bill Blatchford, DDS

Changing times can mean unpredictable results. Our business goal is a steady increase in net income. Without new patients, a practice can produce enough from recalls to be busy for about 18 months. New patients, then, are the lifeblood of a practice. During changing times, we need to be especially aware of quality and quantity of new patients seeking our care. Work the numbers for your own practice.

Given that 20 percent of America moves every year, any practice needs to replace 20 percent of its patients just to stay even. To grow a practice, new patient numbers must be greater than 20 percent.

If a practice has four days of full hygiene a week, it has approximately 800 active patients. If you have one day of hygiene a week, you would have 200 patients. In the 800 active-patient practice where 20 percent transfer to another area, that means 160 new patients are required just to stay even. For the year, that number is 14 new adult patients a month.

A practice also can grow by changing the mix of treatment and by adjusting fees for inflation. Increasing net also is a factor of keeping overhead under control. However, to stay in practice, you must create an action plan to attract new replacement patients, as well as track how patients enter your practice. Know and cultivate your referral sources.

What does it cost to actually produce dentistry in your office? Know your actual overhead per hour in producing dentistry. Knowing your practice numbers will help you make wise marketing decisions to keep your new patient numbers up and steady. In determining your working overhead, remove capital expenditures (anything over $2,000 per month), continuing-education courses (including travel), and doctor benefits which are legal, but do not influence the cost of producing a unit of dentistry (like automobiles, inflated spousal salary, AACD convention in Hawaii, etc.). Subtract the monthly lab bill. Then, divide your overhead by total hours in which you see patients. Divide this figure by the number of providers (hygienists, associates, dentists). The result is the cost per hour per provider.

If the majority of your new patients come from external sources, rather than patient referrals, the retention rate is lower. This means effort does not necessarily equal reward. What does a mass mailing for new patients cost your practice? Let's say a coupon for a $29 prophy is attracting 40 new patients a month, translating into an exciting three patients a day! Let's say your retention rate for the $29 prophy is one in 10 patients. Longevity in a practice would be defined as being seen through three hygiene cycles and accepting some treatment. Why just one in 10? These patients have no relationship with you! You are at tract ing the bargain hunters who will have their inexpensive cleaning at your office and then look elsewhere for the next best deal. It is a stroke of luck if any of these patients stay with you!

Figuring your overhead per hour at $125 for each operator (hygienist and dentist), and assuming there is no doctor time involved in a new-patient prophy, an hour of time spent on a $29 prophy on a new patient costs you $125. If one patient stays in your practice, that marketing exercise on 10 patients costs you $1,250 and brought in $290. In changing times, is that the best use of your marketing dollar?

Attracting quality patients means delivering a consistent message of quality in the community. Take the time to develop marketing skills such as:

  • Mastering the art of asking for referrals
  • Introducing yourself to all businesses in a one-mile radius
  • Giving "wow" nontechnical presentations to service clubs
  • Branding yourself in the community as a doctor who strives for excellence
  • Lunching with referral sources
  • Creating or sponsoring a charity event in your community
  • Working with a publicist to create human-interest news articles about you.

Most important of all, make certain that your internal atmosphere, systems, communications, and attitude make people want to be with you.

Dr. Bill Blatchford, a practice-management coach only to dentists, has developed a distance learning coaching program utilizing conference calls, personal phone coaching, the Internet, and email. Minimizing the travel requirements, Blatchford coaching is now available anytime and anywhere. Based in Sunriver, Ore., Dr. Blatchford is speaking at the Chicago Midwinter, Profitable Dentistry's Destin Seminar, and Discus Dental's Las Vegas Seminar in 2003. He can be reached at (800) 578-9155 or visit his Web site at

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