Attracting new patients

Jan. 1, 2005
Every dentist in America wants to know how to get more new patients. I've been around for a long time and I've tried a lot of different things.

Louis Malmacher

Every dentist in America wants to know how to get more new patients. I've been around for a long time and I've tried a lot of different things. Let me share some experiences from the old to the new, and try to give you some ideas about attracting new patients to your practice.

Internal marketing and word-of-mouth are very important ways to get new patients. They are very cost-effective, and many of the techniques cost nothing at all. The best referrals usually come from patients who come to you for tooth-whitening or veneers. Word-of-mouth is how most dentists have grown their practices over the years. Patients pleased with their dentist and their dentistry tell their friends, neighbors, and co-workers about their wonderful dentist, and a beautiful smile reinforces the patients' words. You also can use patient photos and comments in a testimonial book in your office. This is a great way to motivate people to go ahead with needed treatment.

Internal marketing techniques, such as the dentist and the staff getting out and meeting people in the surrounding community, let these potential patients know you are there, you are always available, and put a real face and name to the office they drive by on a daily basis. All of our offices are in strip shopping centers, and we regularly use the services from other stores in the centers so people will know us.

External marketing approaches, such as general advertising in the newspaper, radio, or on television also can be effective. However, these vehicles are only effective if you are willing to put your money where your mouth is! Running one or two ads in the newspaper every couple of months is not going to get you very far, and will not reap that much in terms of rewards. Yesterday's newspaper is today's trash, and unless you take out two full-page ads in your local newspaper routinely - at a cost of anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000 - you're not going to get a whole lot of attention. Advertising has to be consistent, constant, and memorable. That is a tough thing to do for most solo practitioners.

What about marketing in weekly coupon books that come in the mail? After speaking to thousands of dentists - and using our own experience in coupon marketing - I can tell you, unequivocally, the results are very mixed. Talk to most dentists and, at some point in their career, they have used the free cleaning and X-ray coupon type of marketing. Coupons usually bring in patients who are looking for something for nothing - as in "free." Most of these types of patients will not accept more expensive treatment. The people who use coupons are "shoppers," and they will use one coupon and then wait for the next one to come in the mail. At that point, they will change brands or, in our case, change dental offices.

There is an external marketing service which is very unique and cost-effective. This referral service, 1-800 DENTIST, has worked very well for many practitioners. It has the budget and the media savvy to do the right kind and the right amount of advertising to become an excellent referral service for dentists. I know a lot of dentists who have tried to band together to create an advertising and marketing referral service for a certain section of a city or for their own group of offices, but nothing has been as effective as 1-800-DENTIST. It is a national brand name patients know, recognize, and trust. The 1-800-DENTIST service is very technologically advanced. It will prescreen callers and to the best of its ability try to send the right kind of patients to your office. 1-800-DENTIST will screen callers by geographical location, type of services requested, and a whole host of other specific areas, accomplished by asking the consumers who call them specific questions. The referral service will then seamlessly transfer the phone call to your office, so the patient is connected right away.

Acquiring new patients is a must for every dental office. Like anything else, you need a long-term development plan for attracting new patients to the office, whether you are a new or established practice. When it comes to external marketing, use your dollars wisely by using proven services which will give you a very good return on your money.

Dr. Louis Malcmacher is an international lecturer and author known for his comprehensive and entertaining style. An evaluator for Clinical Research Associates, Dr. Malcmacher is a consultant to the Council on Dental Practice of the ADA. For close to two decades, Dr. Malcmacher has inspired his audiences to truly enjoy practicing dentistry by providing the knowledge necessary for excellent clinical and practice-management skills. His group dental practice has maintained a 45 percent overhead since 1988. For details about his speaking schedule, Dr. Malcmacher can be reached at (440) 892-1810 or via email at [email protected].