Maximising income from your patients

Attracting new patients is often seen as the major goal of any marketing campaign – the chance to add more people to your practice list, hopefully people who need or want more than just regular check-ups.
Yet this is one of the most costly things to achieve through marketing, especially in today’s uncertain economic cliaate. In fact, the high cost of patient acquisition is one of the
primary reasons why practice valuations have rocketed over the past two years.
The majority of practices would be far better off – financially and otherwise – if they focused on internal marketing to make the most of the clients they already have.

The basics
For the majority of practices, the bulk of their fee income tends to come from general preventive and restorative dentistry – and when people are pulling in the purse-strings this becomes even more evident. So it makes sense to maximise the benefits of this regular stream of income by having the right business processes in place.

Take appointment recalls. Seeing your clients regularly is vital, not just for their oral health, but also for regular turnover. Consider how much you charge for a check-up, and think what it would mean if you lost two months’ worth of that income each year. Now consider whether your patients really visit you every six months – or if it stretches out to every seven or eight months. If it’s more the latter, then you are already missing out on two months’ worth of income that could easily be recouped with an efficient recall system.

Many of our clients employ a simple – yet successful – recall process. Instead of just sending an appointment reminder card and waiting for the patient to get in touch, they send a letter with a brief reminder of why it is so important for them to visit regularly. Several use this as an opportunity to update patients with the latest practice news and developments, and to
educate them about treatments which they may not know are available. The articles will still be fresh in clients’ minds when they visit for their appointment, so they are more likely to ask about something they have read about and are interested in.

A week or so later, they chase up the letter with a phone call, asking when (not if) it would suit the patient best to come for their appointment, and booking them in there and then. Done in a professional manner, patients appreciate the call as part of your excellent overall client service.

Active patients
Many of our clients have had great success with reactivating dormant patients. Often people just forget to see you, and become dormant almost by accident. A simple letter reminding them of the importance of regular check-ups can prove very effective at very little cost.
A professional follow-up telephone call can increase your success rate by anything up to 150%. Similarly effective is encouraging patients to refer their friends and family to you. Again, patients often don’t realise that you are happy to take on new clients, so remind them regularly that you are.

Treatment enquiries
While having regular income from your patients is great for your cash flow, it is even better if you can encourage them to have additional treatments too.
One of the most simple ways of doing this is often overlooked – just remind them regularly about the treatments you offer. So many patients still don’t realise that the sort of smile enhancements they see on TV makeover programmes are also available at their own dentists. And often they won’t even ask you about them, just assuming that they are only available at the high-end practices featured on such shows.

So it is up to you to make sure they know exactly how much you can do for them, by making suggestions to them when they are visiting you for their check-ups, with suitable posters and literature displayed around the practice and by communicating with them regularly by newsletter or email.

Interactive marketing
You’re going to see this phrase a lot in the coming few years. It is the latest way of harnessing the potential of the internet and email, gathering data, and using it to market your services to highly targeted audiences.

Until recently, dental patient newsletters have tended to be printed. They’ve proved effective, but they have relied on you asking the patient if there was anything in the newsletter of interest, or on them remembering to ask you about something that caught their eye.
But now the latest e-zine (email newsletter) technology has taken all the uncertainty out of the process.

Put simply, you can send out an e-zine to all your patients (once you have their email addresses), highlighting various services and encouraging patients to click for more information. Each click-through is recorded, which means you can find out exactly who (in terms of their email address) is interested in what. Which means you can then follow-up your e-zine with more specific emails. For example, if patient A clicks on an article about implants, you could then send him an invitation to a forthcoming implant information evening. Miss B, who clicked on tooth whitening, could be sent a ‘10% off whitening this month’ voucher, and so on.

You can further expand your mailing list very easily via your website, making it equally easy to market your practice and services to people who have shown an interest in you, but who have not yet got in touch with you.

The potential for interactive marketing, combined with its environment-friendly appeal, means interest in it is rocketing, with forward-thinking practices eager to reap the benefits.

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