Nine ways to ensure a better, faster recovery

Dec. 1, 2009
As 2009 draws to a close, many dentists are probably looking forward to saying “good riddance” to one of the toughest years in recent memory.

by Roger P. Levin, DDS

For more on this topic, go to www.dentaleconomics.com and search using the following key words: economic recovery, elective services, practice systems, inactive patients, patient referrals, recession, dispensing products, Dr. Roger Levin.

As 2009 draws to a close, many dentists are probably looking forward to saying “good riddance” to one of the toughest years in recent memory. A surprisingly large number of dentists are wondering, “Am I ever going to get back to the kind of production numbers I want?”

The answer is “Yes, you are!” With the right systems and strategies, I believe every dentist can achieve his or her full practice potential.

Many economic experts are already predicting that a turnaround will occur in 2010. They are not talking about a “boom,” by any means, but rather a year with sustained, modest growth. This is a hopeful sign for businesses and consumers alike.

For dental practices, this brighter outlook is certainly good news. There are ways you can prepare for the economic recovery right now that will have a positive impact on your production today!

Nine ways to get ready for the recovery

By following nine action steps, you can position your practice for the fastest possible growth as the economy begins to turn around. These steps include:

1. Prepare for the release of pent–up patient demand for elective services. One of the biggest obstacles to a speedy recovery for dental practices is complacency. After a period of decline, many dentists have become accustomed to lower case acceptance rates and are far too willing to settle for diminished expectations.

When the economy begins to recover, so will patients’ willingness to spend. They have been cutting back for some time now, and when things get better, they will be more than ready to resume their normal spending habits. Need–based production will go up, and so will elective procedures.

As demand picks up, you have to be prepared for it. Your entire office needs to be ready to handle the increased patient flow and your team needs to be ready to answer questions and educate patients. I can guarantee that if your practice isn’t ready to accept an influx of new patients in the recovery, your competitors will be!

2. Smart lessons learned during the recession should be carried forward. An important lesson learned in the recession is that you can’t run an inefficient practice and expect to do well. In more prosperous times, a practice could be inefficient and still provide a reasonable living for the doctor. The recession erased this option almost overnight. In the past 12 to 18 months, you’ve likely learned to operate leaner. Carry that same “less is more” mentality with you as your practice begins to experience more prosperous times.

As the “2009 Dental Economics®/Levin Group Practice Survey indicates, a sizable number of practices reported losses in production. Only practices that learned to maximize efficiency through documented systems have grown during the recession. Yes, many have grown. What’s more, these practices are the ones that will grow the fastest as the economy improves. The time to build your practice is now — not later.

3. Reevaluate all practice systems. If your patient volume has decreased in the last six to eight months, inefficiency has likely crept into your systems. Outdated systems are practice enemy No. 1. For example, when was the last time you updated your schedule? This system is the operational backbone of the practice. When your schedule isn’t working at an optimal level, almost every practice operation is negatively affected.

Making one or two minor tweaks will only mask deeper problems. Don’t wait until a full–blown crisis erupts. It’s always better to be proactive and prevent your practice from being weighed down with outdated systems. With revamped systems, you benefit both now and in the future.

4. Encourage patients to return to your practice for more than hygiene. How can you do this? By changing how the hygiene appointment unfolds. Once the hygienist and the entire team understand the goals of the practice, they will be able to facilitate conversations that promote treatment. The hygienist can use chairtime to educate and motivate patients about the benefits of being proactive when it comes to their oral health.

Most patients are very interested in treatment once they understand the importance and benefits of dental care. The hygiene department is the logical place to create an atmosphere of trust and support through education so that case acceptance can be increased.

5. Develop scripts to deal with questions or objections. Clear, consistent communication with patients can always be improved. The best patient–communication systems rely on scripts focused on presenting patient benefit statements and addressing common concerns and questions in the best possible manner. Scripts decrease the stress associated with having to improvise responses with each patient interaction. They also eliminate patient confusion by providing clear and consistent responses from the entire dental team.

6. Reactivate inactive patients. In all likelihood, your inactive patient file has never been larger. To maximize production opportunities, perform a chart audit and make sure that 98% of all patients are scheduled. Most practices have anywhere between a 5% and 10% “cushion” of active patients who haven’t been seen in the last nine months. Contact these patients as soon as possible. The majority of them will agree to an appointment once your team has communicated with them. Don’t settle for just a home phone number as a contact. Ask patients for their cell phone numbers, e–mail addresses, and spouses’ contact information. Practices should also reach out to recent inactive patients (those who haven’t been seen in two to three years). Many of these patients may have missed an appointment and just fallen off the practice’s radar screen. Send out a letter about restarting care with the practice and then follow up with a phone call. Our clients have had excellent results bringing inactive patients back into the practice with this strategy.

7. Ramp up your patient referral program. If patients are happy with what you have done, it is only natural to ask them for referrals. Truly satisfied patients will not think less of you for asking. If they are happy with their experience, they will often be delighted to tell friends and family about you. They will talk you up to others and even discuss the treatment they underwent. In a way, they have already started your case presentation for you. What could be better than a new patient coming to your practice already “presold” on an elective procedure?

Getting this kind of enthusiastic patient referrals doesn’t take any prodding from you, just the slightest bit of encouragement. Soliciting successful patient referrals is as simple as letting your patients know that recommendations are appreciated.

8. Dispense products that promote good oral health. It’s not about tidy profits. It’s about demonstrating to your patients that you want them to have better oral health. In–office dispensing of dental products can be an effective way for improving at–home care for patients. In–office dispensing is an opportunity to make specific recommendations to patients and have the product available for immediate purchase. Remember, people want convenience.

Having dental products for sale in the practice is a positive, productive strategy. Patients usually can purchase products in the dental office at a lower cost than in retail stores due to a professional rate offered by the manufacturer. The practice also benefits by achieving increased hygiene production and boosting overall profitability.

9. Help patients feel comfortable spending money on dental care again. No matter what the economy, you should make it easy and convenient for patients to accept your services. The more financial options your practice offers, the better outcome for everyone. Levin Group recommends “The Four Financial Options™” to ensure that patients can afford and feel comfortable with payment ... and that you get paid!

  1. Pay half upfront, half before completion of treatment
  2. 5% courtesy for full payment in advance for larger cases
  3. Credit cards
  4. Outside patient financing

Make no mistake — patient financing matters. According to a recent study by Hiner & Partners, 73% of patients surveyed indicated they felt their dental office was looking out for them if financing options were offered. That’s a high percentage of patients with a good feeling about their dental offices. Patient trust is critical to case acceptance, so offering flexible financing options through an outside patient–financing company such as CareCredit® that understands the needs of dental offices is a good way to increase patient trust.

Leverage what you have learned

As the economic recovery looms on the horizon, now is the time to prepare for it. By leveraging what you’ve learned in recessionary times ... by building a leaner, more efficient practice ... by making it easier for patients to accept treatment ... by doing everything you can to hit the ground running when the economy improves, you will have done what is necessary to excel in the future.

Want to know how you can be ready for the economic recovery? Dental Economics® readers are entitled to receive a 50% courtesy on a Levin Group Total Success Practice Potential Analysis™, an in–office analysis and report of your unique situation conducted by a senior practice analyst. To schedule the next available appointment, call (888) 973–0000 and mention “Dental Economics” or e–mail [email protected] with “Dental Economics” in the subject line.

Roger P. Levin, DDS, is founder and CEO of Levin Group, a leading dental management consulting firm that is dedicated to improving the lives of dentists through a diverse portfolio of lifetime services and solutions. Since the company’s inception in 1985, Dr. Levin has worked to bring the business world to dentistry. Levin Group may be reached at (888) 973–0000, or at www.levingroupbp.com.

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