Practice turnaround: Where have the new patients gone?

2013 08 19 16 17 54 253 Roger Levin 200

In his recently published book, Practice Turnaround: Succeeding in the New Dental Economy, Dr. Levin uses actual case studies to illustrate how Levin Group has helped struggling dental practices regain control and accelerate growth. The following is an excerpt from one of these success stories.

Ignore marketing at your peril

Dr. Donna was a 43-year-old general dentist and the main breadwinner for her family. She was married with three children. The family had the normal bills -- mortgage, car payments, vacations, etc. She was an excellent saver and had put away about 35% of her earnings necessary to reach her target for financial independence.

Roger P. Levin, DDS, chairman and CEO of practice management consulting firm Levin Group.Roger P. Levin, DDS, chairman and CEO of practice management consulting firm Levin Group.

"I thought I was in pretty good shape and would keep doing what I had always done," Dr. Donna said. Unfortunately, things were beginning to change. Three corporate dental franchises opened practices within 2 miles of her office. These competitors accepted almost every type of insurance. One office was even open 10 to 12 hours a day, seven days a week.

Dr. Donna had not been participating in insurance plans. She eventually did enroll in several, which added some patients to her practice. However, she lost many patients to those national chains. In addition, because of the economy, patients were either accepting lesser treatment or rejecting treatment altogether. This situation resulted in her practice declining by about 22% over three years. For the first time in her career, Dr. Donna found herself with extensive open time in her schedule and no idea what to do about it.

By the time she enrolled in our marketing consulting program, Dr. Donna was in trouble. She had eliminated all contributions to her long-term savings and had to cut back on her family's lifestyle. To make matters worse, her husband had recently been laid off from his job and was now working at the dental practice.


Practice Turnaround: Succeeding in the New Dental Economy by Dr. Roger P. Levin.Practice Turnaround: Succeeding in the New Dental Economy by Dr. Roger P. Levin.

When Dr. Donna enrolled in the marketing consulting program, she began to understand what constituted successful internal marketing. Fifteen custom strategies were put in place and carried out weekly by the internal marketing coordinator in less than 10 hours per week. In addition, her staff received interpersonal skills training, which improved their interactions with patients.

At the end of nine months, Dr. Donna had increased her production by 13%; at the end of the second program, her production increased by 16% (for a combined total of 29% increase). With a steady stream of new referrals each month, her practice was slightly ahead of their highest production year.

Internal marketing referrals are high-quality referrals with an excellent opportunity for treatment plan acceptance. Dr. Donna was also trained in a patient examination method to help our clients identify comprehensive dentistry. This technique resulted in a higher acceptance rate for elective treatment and larger cases.

Bear in mind that it all starts with the internal marketing. If there are no new patients, it does not matter how skilled the dentist is in comprehensive diagnosis and treatment presentation.

Beyond increased referrals

Dr. Donna's practice is continuing to grow despite competition from dental franchises. She is maximizing her enrollment with certain insurance plans. To counter lower insurance reimbursements, she has focused on increasing elective dentistry performed on all patients.

“In today's business world, you've got to do more with what you already have.”

Once Dr. Donna increased her referrals, she realized she needed to manage these patients differently. Too many dentists believe that if they simply increase referrals all will be well.

However, in today's business world, you've got to do more with what you already have. A key performance measurement is average production per patient. In Dr. Donna's case, her average production per patient increased steadily over six months, indicating she and her team were motivating more patients to accept elective treatment and larger cases.

Dr. Donna's situation represents one of the most common in dentistry. A lack of a strong scientific marketing program is a classic mistake that causes otherwise excellent practices to eventually plateau and decline. This occurs even faster when a slower economy occurs, leaving a weak practice vulnerable to competition and prone to decline.

This situation could have easily been avoided if Dr. Donna had understood that marketing should be consistent and ongoing -- not triggered by new competitors or changes in the community. On a positive note, her husband became an effective office manager after receiving the appropriate training.

Roger P. Levin, DDS, is the chairman and CEO of practice management consulting firm Levin Group.

The digital version of Practice Turnaround: Succeeding in the New Dental Economy is now available online for just $59.

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.

Copyright © 2015, Levin Group, Inc. Reprinted with permission.

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