Former Technical Director at Practice Plan, Graham Penfold shares some ideas on how dental practices can remain on their toes to ensure that appointment books remain full and revenue streams strong.
There are many things that you can implement to help achieve a full appointment book, including a clean and professional environment, friendly and helpful staff, a wide range of services, a variety of ways in which to pay for treatment and much, much more.
However, the most important is ensuring you embark in the power of internal marketing techniques – this can maximise the number of new patient referrals you get from existing clients and is a low-cost and effective way of promoting the practice. This can include special offers on new patient consultations which can be passed on in the form of a voucher by existing patients.
More specifically, appointment recall/reminder systems need to be honed to perfection to ensure that no patients are overlooked and personalising the communication method, where possible, is a good idea.
Little can be done if a patient simply fails to attend apart from charging them if it happens frequently or simply saying goodbye so they become another practice’s problem. But what about cancellations at short notice?
Let’s take a specific example – at 10.00 am a patient telephones to say they cannot make their one-hour appointment at 4.00 pm this afternoon and rebooks; what do you do?
Well, you could wait to see if a patient calls in with a pain or trauma problem but that is very passive and might not happen and, even if it does, might not take an hour. If you are quite busy, you could telephone patients who are booked a couple of weeks ahead to see if they can come in sooner. But what if the books are quiet? Possibly, if you are seeing patients for consultations who might require treatment, they might be able to return to fill that time; but that’s an awful lot of mights!
As a proactive alternative, you could text, email or even telephone patients with a special offer, such as half-price tooth whitening, if they can attend at 4.00 pm today. Of course, it does not have to be tooth whitening, it could be a whole range of things, but the aim is to fill the appointment book and not lose revenue. Some might feel uncomfortable with such an approach, but we are living in new and uncertain times and such measures are commonplace in other markets; hotels to name just one.
I am not a pessimist, but it is clear that the current, already long, economic downturn is not going to end any time soon and that wishful thinking is really just self-deception. If appointment books are quiet and patients worried about finances, dental practices will have to re-engineer themselves to fight for increasingly scarce discretionary spends. That means examining all areas of operations and thinking of new and radical ways of protecting the revenue streams of the practice.