Lost in the system

I bought my practice from a retiring dentist five years ago, and according to the practice management software report, there were about 1,500 active patients.

By Dianne Glasscoe Watterson, MBA

Dear Dianne,

I bought my practice from a retiring dentist five years ago, and according to the practice management software report, there were about 1,500 active patients. My schedule was full and I was booked out about three weeks ahead. Now, I'm seeing entirely too much open time in my schedule and my hygienist's schedule. Can you give me some advice on where to start revving up my practice again? – Brian

Dear Brian,

This always happens. When the practice is busy and happily clicking along on all cylinders, nobody thinks too much about ongoing strategies to stay busy. Then, there is usually a very subtle shift in busyness until one day, a mental alarm sounds and you realize that there is indeed a problem. The fact is that to stay busy, you need ongoing strategies aimed at keeping your patient base engaged and maintaining a healthy flow of new patients.

The very first thing you should do is run a report of all the active patients who do not currently have an appointment in your schedule. This report might actually reveal a large number of patients who need to be reactivated. A recent client's report showed 3,400 active patients with about 1,500 not currently on the schedule! The doctor was shocked to find such a large number of people with no appointment, but the good news was that we had a large pool of patients from which to work.

The reactivation strategy should involve a serious, concerted, and motivated attempt by a business assistant to contact patients and courteously invite them to make an appointment. A busy assistant may feel overwhelmed when large numbers of people need to be contacted, so the best way to approach the task is to set a goal of contacting a set number each day. Merely plowing through a list of people and leaving messages on voice mail is not likely to be fruitful. The strategy should begin with a phone call with this message: "Hi, Mrs. Smith. This is Lisa at Dr. Schwartz' office. I don't know if we dropped the ball or what, but we haven't seen you since __________. I know you are a busy person, but I'd like to work with you to find a time that works with your schedule to get the preventive care you need. Would you be so kind to call me back so we can work out something for you? Our number is: __________________. Thanks for your consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you soon." Another suggestion is to place some calls during nontraditional time when it might be easier to catch people at home.

If the phone call doesn't work, then the patient should get a letter that is warm and inviting. The letter should contain this statement near the end: "If we do not hear from you by (date 10 days away), we will assume you are seeking care elsewhere, and your record will be moved to inactive status."

It is very easy for patients to become lost in the system. There are several ways that this occurs: (1) the patient previously had an appointment and cancelled it without rescheduling; (2) the patient disappointed; (3) the patient left the office without scheduling; (4) the patient relocated; (5) the patient's contact information changed; (6) the business desk input inaccurate contact information. Needless to say, working the patient database and keeping it "fresh" is a continuous process.

This is where you should begin. Beyond that, you need a solid marketing plan that involves both internal and external marketing strategies so you can keep a steady stream of new patients. This keeps your practice from stagnating and spurs practice growth.

All the best,
Dianne

Dianne Glasscoe Watterson, MBA, is a consultant, speaker, and author. She helps good practices become better through practical on-site consulting. Her book, "Manage Your Practice Well," is available at www.professionaldentalmgmt.com. For consulting or speaking inquiries, contact Dianne at dglasscoe@northstate.net or call her at (301) 874-5240.

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