Q. My private practice is very successful. I have 2000 loyal patients but because many of them have been with the practice for over ten years, the vast majority of them are now dentally healthy. Should I embark on a new
advertising campaign to attract new patients?
A. Advertising is often the first thought to come to mind in situations like this, but as a short-term measure often it can end up being expensive and not particularly effective.
If it is new patients you would like, you should market your services to those who are most in need of them.
New homeowners are a prime example of this – having just moved into an area, they are likely to need a new dentist. Our experience working with other clients is that appropriately targeted direct mail can be a very cost effective way to attract new patients.
We would also recommend carrying out some internal marketing. Generally, it is 5-10 times more cost effective to promote services to existing clients than it is to attract new ones.
As a successful practice, it would be safe to assume that your patients are pleased with the service you are offering. So it would not be unreasonable for you to ask them to recommend you to their friends and family.
Additionally, although your patients are orally healthy, they may want to have some aesthetic work carried out but may not realise that you offer these services. An easy solution that covers both of these issues is to send regular information by e-zine or newsletter to your patients.
Your communications can remind them of the services you offer, including cosmetic treatments, and can also include a request for referrals.
They also serve as a post-cognitive purchase reminder to your patients that you are still the ideal practice for them – this helps to prevent them considering other local practices that may be also be marketing their services.
Q. We have quite a few patients who miss appointments, and so we are thinking of investing in a service which reminds people via text message. Do you think this is a good idea?
A. Definitely! Anything that helps to prevent wasted time during your working day has to be a bonus for you. However, you should make sure that you ask your patients if they would like to be included in this service, rather than simply assuming that they would.
This can be easily done by asking them when they contact or visit the practice, and marking their records accordingly. Make sure your staff check the records before asking to avoid making repeated requests to your more frequent visitors.
It is also worth including an article about the new service in your patient newsletter, or writing to patients to let them know.
Ensure that you promote the benefits that the service has to them – the convenience of receiving a simple text message, and the fact that they do not risk having to pay a fine because they did not turn up.
Finally, it is worth asking patients if they would like appointment reminders for other family members – partners and children, for example – to be sent to them. This can often prove invaluable, especially for busy mums!
Q. Six months ago I took over a practice when the principal dentist retired. I have about 1800 active patients on the computer system, but there are another 1300 paper-based patient records in the basement. What should I do with them?
A. We have a surprisingly large amount of similar queries from our clients – it is quite scary to think how much lost business is hidden in the basements of practices. However, you can definitely use the old patient records to your advantage.
Your first task is to place all the names and addresses onto a database. You could spend all your spare time doing this yourself, but it would be much easier if you simply hired a willing family member or a temp to do it for you.
Once you have your mailing database, you can send a letter to all your dormant patients. This would explain that you have taken over the practice, give a little information about the improvements you have made or plan to make, and give a brief reminder of the importance of regular check-ups.
You need to send the letters in manageable batches, because you should then follow up each one with a telephone call to arrange an appointment with you. Make sure the follow-up call is made in a very positive manner.
A wishy-washy ‘would you like to see the dentist sometime?’ will not be nearly as effective as a friendly but polite explanation of why you are calling followed by a ‘which day of the week suits you best?’
With a little time and effort, you will soon find that a good percentage of your dormant patients are reactivated.
For more information about Blue Horizons services, visit www.bluehorizonsdental.co.uk or email [email protected]