Creating the New Patient Experience—Part I
Roger P. Levin, DDS, MBA
Dental practices are businesses, and dentists are the chief executive officers (CEOs) of their companies. Dentists, in their role as CEOs, should focus on making their businesses as successful as possible. While some dentists are knowledgeable business people, many struggle with the complex role of CEO. At its core, this role demands business leadership geared to ensure that the practice maximizes its production potential and revenues. Statistics have indicated that a valid general practice model includes various sources of production:
- 50% of doctor production originates with hygiene patients who require additional treatment.
- 40% from new patients.
- 10% from emergency patients
New patients often present with more involved treatment plans than those of existing patients. This results in a proportionately higher per-patient dollar contribution to the practice production. In addition, research shows that new patients tend to refer more people to the practice than existing patients. This positively impacts the overall growth and long-term success of the practice. This is a critical characteristic considering the fact that general dental practices tend to lose between 15% and 20% of their patient bases each year due to changes in insurance, ageing, moving, and related circumstances.
Clearly, all of these statistics demonstrate the significant impact of new patients on the success of the practice. This makes it even more important to intrigue new patients. Interestingly, many dentists fail to see the production potential of new patients and neglect to develop the appropriate management systems to capitalize on this critical source of practice production.
The Production Potential of New Patients
Factors that make new patients so significant to the production potential of dental practices include:
- New patients usually represent clinician and hygiene productivity. Many incoming patients will see the hygienist for the initial prophylactic appointments and may require additional services (eg, full-mouth series, panoramic radiographs, periodontal treatment, oral cancer brush biopsies, sealants, fluoride treatments). This contributes significantly to the overall hygiene production of the practice.
- New patients tend to be more comprehensively examined by most dentists than existing patients in a recall program. Dentists generally develop more comprehensive diagnostic procedures for patients they have not seen before than they might for current patients during a periodic hygiene check. With new patients, dentists tend to develop a baseline of information on all aspects of the new patient’s oral condition. It often results in a more comprehensive assessment of oral health and treatment needs.
- New patients tend to be more open to recommendations from a new dentist. They are often more receptive to the various options and services that are available to them when explained by the new dentist. For example, a new dentist may suggest placing a crown or inlay on a tooth with an old, large, four-surfaced amalgam filling, while the previous dentist may have decided to simply observe that tooth over time before recommending further treatment. Because of the newness of the situation and the fact that the patient has actively sought a new opinion regarding oral health, the patient is more likely to accept the new treatment recommendation.
- Many new patients are seeking a second opinion or a more advanced form of dentistry than they had been used to. Patients may often seek out a practice that might have been recommended to them to answer specific questions relating to their oral condition and appearance. These patients may have been reluctant to ask these questions at the previous practice, yet are generally very open-minded and more prone to take action in order to enhance their dental health or aesthetic appearance in a new practice.
New Patients Equal Return on Investment
Dentists have an obligation to ensure the financial success of their practices by providing a positive return on investment. It is a vital certainty that most practices will have increasing expenses each year and must have some growth in revenue to maintain the positive return on investment. The realities of business make it imperative that as expenditures are incurred, revenues must rise to meet those financial obligations and retain target return on investments.
For this reason, it is important for dentists to assess the value of investments (eg, Continuing Education [CE], new technologies, the addition of new staff, remodeling or moving the office) to ensure the financial health of the practice. Evaluating all these areas will reveal whether or not a practice is realizing adequate return on its investments in equipment, training and staff development, office refurbishing, and of course, attracting new patients.
Due to the lucrative potential of new patients, it is equally important to continually evaluate the average production per new patient. This author recommends that new patient statistics be analyzed monthly, quarterly, semiannually, and annually, since they are a key factor of the practice’s success. In addition to revealing whether new patients are accounting for the ideal 40% of new production in a general practice, keeping new patient statistics will reflect:
- Total production on all new patients seen over a 12-month period.
- Types of services accepted by new patients who are presenting to the office.
- Level of insurance limitations applicable to any or all of the new patients.
- Types of services provided to new patients.
- Presentation and acceptance rate of optimal care elective procedures (eg, implants and aesthetic procedures).
- Interval between initial phone call and initial scheduled appointment.
- Interval between subsequent appointments resulting from the initial consultation.
Together, all these figures will help to determine whether a practice is performing in accordance with the target model. They will further allow the dentist as CEO to assess whether changes need to be made in the service mix the practice provides or in the systems for managing and welcoming new patients into the practice.
The average production per new patient is a key factor to track, because it is an essential factor of the financial performance of any dental practice. The health of this factor will have a dramatic effect on the financial wellbeing of the practice and the doctor, and on the timing and character of his or her retirement. At the same time, it is essential to balance financial factors with an exceptional quality of care for every patient. Without both, neither one will be successful in the long term.
*Founder and CEO, Levin Group, Baltimore, Maryland.