By Michael Mulkey, DDS
All dental practices will inevitably experience slow times. These are not the times to save money by pausing your marketing campaigns. This dentist learned just the opposite to be true, as well as several other ideas for getting through the slow times.
Whether you’ve been practicing for two or 20 years, you’ve probably experienced slow periods from time to time. Though every practice is different, the dental industry does tend to have a certain seasonality to it.
While we all like the peaks more than the valleys, there are plenty of ways to make the most of that inevitable down time. Here are some tips for slow periods that should not only alleviate the stress that often accompanies a downturn in business, but also help position your practice to attract a steady flow of patients year-round.
DON’T PANIC—Slow periods are certainly cause for concern, but there’s no reason to despair. Overreacting to downturns can lead to poor decisions that you’ll likely regret later. For example, when you’re feeling desperate, joining a preferred provider network might seem like a great way to draw new patients. While there are some networks that make sense, if you’re discounting your fees to an unsustainable rate just to participate, then you’re probably not going to make up the difference in volume. Remember, you can be busy and still go bankrupt.
REMAIN EFFICIENT—It’s tempting to spread out your schedule when things slow down. But rather than stretching out an hour-long procedure to two hours because you’ve got nothing else scheduled, stay on track. Schedule your patients early in the morning and late in the afternoon and leave the middle of the day open for patients who call in with last-minute issues. Fitting in latecomers will go a long way toward building loyalty and will help you develop a reputation as an accommodating option. Staying efficient will also help you better prepare to handle heavy patient loads when business picks up.
MAINTAIN YOUR MARKETING BUDGET— When times are tough, marketing budgets are often the first items on the chopping block. But the slow season is exactly when you should be ramping up your marketing campaign, not only to drive immediate traffic, but to fuel long-term growth as well. Keep in mind, you may have cut your advertising campaign, but your competition likely has not. I promise that staying consistent will pay off.
BE CREATIVE—Use the slow time to develop memorable marketing pitches that separate you from the competition.
DIG INTO YOUR DATABASE— The best way to understand what’s going on in your practice is to take a close look at your patients’ behavior. Your patient management system can provide key data points—which patients come in regularly, how much they spend, how many family members are being treated—that you can use to improve your practice. Analyzing that data on your own can be complex and time consuming, so I recommend springing for a software tool that will do the heavy lifting for you.
DEVELOP A PATIENT TASK LIST—I hate to harp on the idea of follow-up, but you lose revenue when patients fall through the cracks. Our practice has designed a patient task list to ensure that we’re capturing the information we need each time we interact with a patient. The checklist helps us confirm that someone has asked a patient to schedule a follow-up appointment, that we’ve entered the correct billing and insurance information, and that the bill is accurate.
GET ORGANIZED—Use your down time to organize all your clinical supplies and instruments so they are easy to access. Remember that it costs you money and slows down your schedule every time an assistant must leave the room to locate something. It also pays to have an organized front desk to ensure that the check-in and check-out process runs smoothly and efficiently.
SAY THANK YOU—Remember, your patients can choose another dentist! There are 20 other dentists located near my practice. Thanking my patients helps separate me from the pack. It’s a simple but powerful gesture.
CHECK IN—Patients expect to hear from you if they’ve undergone a major procedure, but I make a point of touching base with every patient I’ve treated each day. I simply send a text asking if everything is OK. This enables them to report any issues or ask questions that may have arisen since their appointment. Most of them thank me for following up. Again, this is a simple action, but I’ve found that it goes a long way in cultivating long-term relationships.
It may not be possible to implement all of these strategies all at once, but even trying just a few will help you even out the ups and downs and allow you to attract a more consistent stream of patients.
This article originally appeared in the Principles of Practice Management e-newsletter.