The right way to add the right kind of new patients

By Curtis Marshall, DrBicuspid.com contributing writer

September 2, 2021 -- Here are two important questions for you: Why do you want to add new patients to your practice? What kind of new patients do you want to add?

Adding new patients to a dental practice can be an important part of your overall growth strategy. Doing so can bring additional production, new energy, and the perception that a dental practice is thriving, which are all good for team morale. But without a clear reason why you are trying to add new patients, the benefits to your practice can be less than one might expect.

Curtis Marshall
Curtis Marshall.

Our recent analysis of more than 8,000 U.S.-based dental practices found that, on average, practices are only adding around 2.7 net new patients each month. How can that be? If asked, many practices would likely state they are adding dozens of new patients each month.

Here's a hypothetical example to explain what's happening: Let's imagine during the past month a practice added 50 new patients while also losing 47 active patients (i.e., patients who have completed an appointment in the past 18 months) for a net growth of three new patients. In fact, this isn't a hypothetical -- it's what's happening in many dental practices. Far too many are losing active patients at the same time they are adding new patients, leading to little if any actual net growth. This doesn't seem like the best path to success, right?

Why add new patients?

The top-performing practices we analyzed take a different approach to adding new patients. Instead of using these patients to fill holes in their schedules, they are doing two things that any practice can replicate:

  1. They are making active patients their primary production focus, which includes ensuring those active patients have a current scheduled appointment.
  2. They've designed their new patient experience around converting them into an active, returning patient.

When asked why they add new patients, these practices would respond with the following: "To create active patients that help us to increase the amount of production we do in our practice."

Is this why you are adding new patients? If not, then that's an important question to consider. As these successful practices have discovered, having a clearly defined strategy for how to add new patients -- and a clear purpose for doing so -- has led to much more robust and sustainable growth.

Patient attrition is a fact of life for every dental practice. The reasons why patients switch to a new dentist are almost too many to list. Retaining active patients while also adding the right kind of new patient (more on that in a minute) is the best way for a practice to grow, but that's easier said than done, obviously.

Without going into too much detail, here are several ways you can convert new patients into active ones:

  • Identify and then magnify what matters to them. Why did they choose your practice? What are their priorities? What are they worried about when it comes to their teeth? What are their goals for meeting with you? The more empathetic listening you do here, the better. If they are switching from another dentist, there's a reason. Find out why and build massive trust in your first interaction, and you'll be off to a great start.
  • Schedule their next appointment during their current one. This may seem obvious, but in many practices, this crucial step is often neglected. Our data show that, on average, less than half of patients are scheduled for their next appointment before leaving the practice. Discuss ways as a team to improve this important key performance indicator, especially with new patients.
  • Supercharge your patient onboarding. Do you have a consistent process for onboarding new patients? Is there a map that is known and followed by every team member that tracks new patients from their first interaction to the end of their first appointment? If not, now is a great time to implement one. Patients should immediately feel like they made a great choice coming to you. Give them every reason to stay.

What kind of new patients?

Do you mean we get to choose? Yes! Not every new patient is a good fit for your practice. Some are there because of an offer and have no intention of becoming an active patient. Is this the kind of patient you want to attract? It's certainly possible they could have such a good experience during their first visit that they decide to stick around. There's nothing wrong with that. But there is such a thing as "good, better, best" when it comes to new patients, and knowing how to find, attract, and retain the best new patients should be your goal.

Only you know what your best patient looks like. But most practices would gladly welcome patients who show up for their appointments, pay their bill on time, have good insurance coverage, say yes to presented treatment, and refer family members and friends. No doubt other things could be added to this list, but the message here is clear: Attracting and retaining this type of patient should be the goal of any marketing you do.

Would you be surprised to learn that many practices saw an increase in new patients during 2020? If you think about it, this makes sense. In a year when so many normal patterns were disrupted, many people saw an opportunity to make changes in some of their routines and professional relationships. We did a deep dive into which groups were most likely to switch to a new dentist and discovered some fascinating facts.

Here are the top three, based on our data analysis of more than 8,000 dental practices:

  1. Women 20- to 25-years-old
  2. Woman 60- to 65-years-old
  3. Men 30- to 35-years-old

Pretty interesting, right? Here's what we think is happening:

  • Group No. 1: When young adults leave home, they are probably going to switch to a new dentist. They're ready to start caring for themselves and their health.
  • Group No. 2: This could be due to a desire to switch to their "own" dentist. They are ready to move away from the family dentist. Perhaps they are looking to have some cosmetic work done at this new stage of life.
  • Group No. 3: They are a little bit into their career and have more disposable income. Maybe they have better insurance, as well as more time off to get treatment.

Looking at these three groups, which one would you focus on first and why?

It's your choice, of course, but if we were choosing, we'd start with the second group because they will likely produce more dollars than the other two groups. They have more disposable income, have better insurance, and are more open to cosmetic dentistry. They also know more people, have more friends, and are more willing to give referrals and reviews if they have a great experience.

In your office, you should be looking at all the factors behind why a new patient is coming into your practice. Here are some questions to get you started:

  • How many insurance plans are you currently taking?
  • Where are your new patients coming from, by source?
  • By source, which ones are most likely to become active patients?
  • How many new patients are coming from each insurance?
  • Are new patients rescheduling hygiene?
  • Are new patients accepting treatment?

These and other factors should be regularly discussed by your team to determine how to get the most from your new patients. Again, what's the goal? To convert new patients into active ones!

Successfully managing a dental practice is both an art and a science. That's certainly true when it comes to how you find, add, and retain new patients. Using your practice data to better understand and change what is happening in your practice is a winning approach to experiencing real growth. Whether you use a practice analytics platform, spreadsheets, or some other method, the key is to measure and adapt, repeatedly. As you work on adding new patients, consider how effectively you are converting them into active ones. Any effort here will result in healthier patients, better team collaboration, and an increase in practice profitability.

Curtis Marshall is the director of partner operations for Dental Intelligence. Dental Intelligence is committed to helping practices grow in ways that matter. Request a free demo and learn how better data = better dentistry.

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


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