The new patient myth

Afew months ago, I wrote a column about all of the outrageous come-ons we in the dental profession receive each day in the mail.

Afew months ago, I wrote a column about all of the outrageous come-ons we in the dental profession receive each day in the mail. I was amazed at how many e-mails and comments I received from readers on this topic, along with some sad stories from dentists who had lost money on some of these wild marketing schemes.

I want to focus on some of the outrageous statements that have to do with new patients. These types of statements are frequently seen in marketing materials from many companies. Some examples include:

“This dentist invested $100 in this secret report and received 187 new patients in three weeks.”

“This ad brought in 320 new patients in its first two months.”

Did you ever ask yourself:

“How many new patients do I need for my practice?”

“Do I even need any new patients?”

“How many new patients a month can I handle?”

We are told new patients are the lifeblood of any practice. That is totally wrong! Your current patients are the lifeblood of your practice. New patients are an infusion of nutrients into your practice that you need on a regular basis. However, the mistake many dentists make is to focus only on the new patients. Your current patients are your bread and butter. They are the ones who pay your bills every month, and they are the people you really need to satisfy. Without your current patients, you probably wouldn’t have any new ones, because you would lose the word-of-mouth aspect, which accounts for most referrals to your practice. So, who is more important - new patients or current patients? Hands down, your current patients are more important to your practice!

One big fallacy is that you need dozens, if not hundreds, of new patients every month. I would bet a dime to a dollar that there is no way your practice could take care of 100 new patients per month. You would have no time to adequately diagnose them, let alone treat them. Your current patients would fall by the wayside, and you and your staff would run around like chickens with their heads cut off. For most dental practices, a realistic number is anywhere from 10 to 25 new patients per doctor per month.

Creating patient loyalty is an important topic we rarely give attention to. One of the best speakers on the dental lecture circuit today on this topic is Fred Joyal, the creator of 1-800-DENTIST. Each year, his company speaks to about 2.5 million consumers who are looking for a dentist. One of Fred’s main points is simple - find out what patients want and give it to them! Take good care of the patients you have and new patients will absolutely follow. In our office, we have spent tens of thousands of dollars over the years to market to new patients. Most of this was ineffective, incomplete, and unsustainable. We would try something for a month, get poor results, not stick with it, and then try something else. We didn’t have the money, time, or patience to really create a marketing plan to attract new patients.

I was skeptical about new patient referral services until I became a member. They send between 12 and 25 new patients per month, some who live only a few blocks from my office. That really bugged me. I have been in this community for 20 years, and I thought everyone here knew about my office and me. I assumed that anyone within a two-mile radius of my office who needed a dentist picked up the phone and called our office.

Yet, here was a patient who lived two blocks away, someone who needed a new dentist and recognized and knew about this referral service. This person picked up the phone and called for a referral, and was sent to our office. That’s when I was finally convinced that I was doing a poor job of marketing my dental practice.

Our philosophy now is to take really good care of the current patients in our office and leave the new patient marketing to the professionals. This allows us to spend more quality time with the people who really matter to our practice - our established patients. This has also saved us money. Finally, it allows us to do what we excel at - providing wonderful dental care to our patients.

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 e-mail at

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