Almost every dental practice is looking for new patients. Most practices have considered participating with additional insurance companies in order to gain patients. This is one path, but is it the right choice for your practice? This depends on what types of patients you want to attract and what you’re willing to sacrifice to attract them. Any dental office that accepts PPOs is familiar with the impact 30% to 35% write-offs have on the practice’s bottom line. Instead of increasing your dependence on insurance to attract more patients, why not reduce that dependence by building an alternate source of new patients - internal marketing - and referral stream for your practice?
Internal marketing is inexpensive and often more effective than insurance participation in generating new patients. Referred patients also tend to be more loyal and likely to stay with your practice through insurance changes down the road. If you’re fortunate enough to be in a position to consider reducing your PPO participation, those patients who came to you because “Sally said you’re so gentle,” or “Your staff will walk me through my financial options,” are more likely to stay with your practice. This is even after you have dropped their plan, and even when compared to the patients who came into the office because “You were on my insurance list of providers.”
Internal marketing often falls into the “tried and failed” category with many offices. One reason for this can be the practice culture. You have to create a culture the team is proud of, while making sure they feel appreciated and respected. Internal marketing relies on the staff asking patients to refer their friends and family. When you strongly believe in something, it becomes effortless to speak positively about it.
The practices I work with that have great cultures have strong foundations for a fun and successful internal marketing program. In addition to excelling at clinical dentistry, your team should be able to communicate effectively with your patients. Make sure the team members make eye contact, introduce themselves, and have great smiles and enjoy using them. Ensuring that patients feel welcome, safe, and comfortable is the best way to guarantee that they return to the practice. If you don’t know how your patients feel, implement patient satisfaction surveys.
Tracking is the first and most important step of the systems you use in your practice. Document how many new patients you currently see and where they are coming from. If your internal referrals (patients referred by other patients) are lower than 40%, I suggest revisiting your internal marketing plan. What has worked in the past? Did you target the type of patients you want?
Define your ideal patient. Is it someone who shows up on time, complies with your treatment plan, pays the bill on time, and refers friends and family? These types of patients surround themselves with similar people. Use your daily huddle to identify these patients and then ask them for a referral. Ask patients how their visit was. When they reply positively, simply say, “If your friends and family are as nice as you are, we’d love to see them as patients.”
Make sure you offer a patient experience that “wows” and turns new patients into loyal patients. Offer office tours, welcome gifts, and raffles for internal referrals. Make sure yur office phones are answered professionally and promptly. Greet all patients upon their arrival. Spend quality time with each patient in the operatory and ensure that patient education is woven throughout the entire visit. Most importantly, be on time. Giving your current patients the most positive experience is your best marketing strategy for ensuring referrals.
If your internal marketing plan is out-of-date or nonexistent, assign someone the position of marketing director. This person does not need to have marketing experience, but it will require a time commitment of eight to 10 hours per week tracking, managing, and implementing the marketing plan. Make the commitment and see your new patients increase!
Author’s note: For assistance with internal marketing, schedule a free 360 Practice Development coaching session at 360practicedevelopment.com.
Vanessa Buchheit has 16 years of experience in the dental field. After success as an office manager, Vanessa joined Henry Schein Dental as a practice development coach. She now provides coaching and systems implementation with a hands-on approach that increases production and reduces stress. Contact her at [email protected] or (855) 801-1125.