Barriers to a five-star start, part 3

Aug. 1, 2003
In this final installment of the three-part series, we'll examine a third barrier to a smooth entrance into your practice: new-patient appointments.

In this final installment of the three-part series, we'll examine a third barrier to a smooth entrance into your practice: new-patient appointments.

When is the best time to see a new patient?

No answer is right for everyone; however, a common barrier in otherwise successful practices is the inability to schedule a new patient quickly and at a convenient time. You may think you're too busy, but if you're not operating at capacity (and 99.9 percent of dentists aren't), you're throwing money away.

I seldom see practices that truly operate at what I define as "capacity." My definition of capacity is a practice that operates with 90 percent of its chairs full and with 95 percent of its time scheduled with patient hours that range from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. six days a week.

This scenario sounds like too much work, but the wise practitioner will delegate to specialists, associates, and team members. You can build a very profitable business without locking yourself down to increased chairside time. A practice that operates at capacity also will have fees that are one to two times those of your local colleagues.

However, before instigating any major fee changes, it's important to understand the difference between raising fees and actually receiving them. Your practice must offer patients a credible reason for charging higher-than-average fees. In one of my two practices, we charge $2,250 for an Empress crown and buildup, which is more than double what our local colleagues charge. More than 70 general dentists within a three-mile area service our town's population of 60,000. But I've found that patients are willing to pay more for better quality and service.

My point is not that all dentists should automatically raise their fees this high, but that too many dentists work far too hard for too little in return because their fees are lower than their patients' perceived service value.

If you're not at capacity, but you are incredibly busy, strive to offer new-patient appointments within a day or two of the initial contact and at really convenient times!

Don't risk losing potential new patients just because you couldn't schedule them to their convenience. You won't always be able to give them similar convenience in the future, but it's not always necessary to secure a perfect time slot for every visit once you've secured their loyalty. Flexibility and loyalty will build based upon the relationship that will develop. With new patients, there is no relationship, which is why the new-patient failure rate is the highest in dentistry.

So how do we assure the availability of these magically convenient new-patient openings just a day or a few away? Simple: Track the number of patients you've historically seen during various parts of each year. If you add marketing, modify your count based upon your current strategy's anticipated affects on historical new patient flow.

For example, if you know that in November you average five new patients a week, and your facility is open five days, then it's easy to deduce that your practice sees roughly one new patient per day. So, schedule one new patient blockout each day at the most convenient appointment times available. If you open at 7 a.m. and close at 5 p.m., then reserve the 7 a.m. timeslot on day one, and the 4 p.m. time slot on day two. Reserving the best times instead of the worst for new patients is important for two reasons. First, new patients will flip over the chance to come in before or after work.

The second reason is that if three days prior to a blockout you've not filled it with a new patient, you can discard the "new-patient blockout" and put whatever you can into the spot. Faced with no new patient and a potentially wasted block of schedule time, what would your team rather do at the last minute: try to get patients to come during the mid-afternoon when nobody wants to come in? Or at your most convenient time ... a time that whomever you call will feel that you've done them a big favor! Start Monday with these simple philosophical shifts in scheduling, and watch your new-patient flow rise!

Dr. Orent's personal coaching group member dentists, the "Gems Gold Dozen," have enjoyed annualized average increases from $203,000.00 to as much as an astounding $420,000.00 in less than one year. To receive Dr. Orent's free "1000 Gems," a biweekly e-letter that contains clinical, practice management, and marketing GEMS, sign up at, or email [email protected], fax your name and email address to (508) 872-0020. Readers also can mail requests to: Gems Publishing, USA, Inc., 12 Walnut St., Framingham, MA 01702, ATTN: "Gems e-letter."

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