The Dental Shopper Blog

Tougher Times

Monday, June 22, 2009

A discussion of strategies for dentists during tough economic times. By Gary Moore DDS

When it comes to management of you dental practices, especially in tougher times, all of us fall into two main categories.  One category is those dentists who are tired of hearing about it and decide to "not do anything, because “I can't do anything about it", and the other category, who is also tired, but determined to do "something" about it.

I have seen several offices and can tell you many have chosen to "throw up their hands" and try to "make the best of it".  Not only is this is a mistake, but I have found it is done many times out of ignorance, rather than choice.

I have practiced 23 years and have seen slow times on more than one occasion.  I am not here to tell you that I have a single magic bullet that is going to make the tough times go away.   I am here to give ideas, and hopefully get ideas from the readers of the dental shopper forum about how to fill the empty chairs that I often hear about.

I believe that most of the readers of the dental shopper are self-employed, hard working dentists who try to wear both hats of the two basic needs of a dental office.  One hat is clinical, the other hat is the business side, as one cannot work without the other.

Too many times I see dentists spend thousands of dollars on equipment or continuing education courses that only add to the overhead/stress of the office, rather than increase production/collections. 

This strategy often fails because your office is not prepared to "sell" the new technology, and/or your patient base is too low to support the cost of the new product.

In this forum I want to discuss "tougher times strategies".  I want to hear the good and bad of what is working in your office to keep your practice going.  I realize that many of you may not want to share your "secrets", but keep in mind that sharing ideas is not the same as implementing them.  We have to remember that rarely are we in competition with each other.  Generally, our “competition” is the wants and needs of other items that our patients want to buy, instead of dentistry, now days that can be housing, food, and basic necessities. Two years ago it would have been the new car or new boat.

If I am asked what to do in tougher times, I usually suggest starting with what is called the "chart separation exercise".  This is a physical chart separation of who has an appointment, and who doesn't (but you wish they did).

The exercise is fairly easy, as you go through your charts one by one and separate them into 2 different chart filings.  This can take several hours depending on how many charts you have.

Once you have done this you have 2 sets of charts in 2 separate areas.  Take a good look at the area that is holding the patient charts that have appointments.  Count them, because this is really your "active" charts (or active patients), as they have an appointment to return to your office. (I realize that there is no guarantee that they will show up- but that is dependent on your systems you enforce to assure the patient will show up).

Just a side note, I always chuckle when a practice broker tells me that an active patient is anyone that has been seen in the last 2 years.  I believe this is nonsense, but that is a discussion for another time.

Now you have the other set of charts-patients without appointments.  These are the first patients that you need to be in contact with.  Postcard, letters, email, and phone calls are needed.  As with all marketing, you must contact these potential several different ways and times to let them know you are still interested and available for them.

Yes this takes time, effort, and a little money.   If you have idle staff, make the most of them.  Even in a moderate busy office, there is time to make a few phone calls, send emails, and mail a letter or postcard.  You have one person that is very valuable to do this- go look in the mirror!  If you are sitting around at 10 am waiting for your 11 am patient walk in, be wise, take the time to do some clerical work, don't let pride get in your way.  Remember, tough times require tough sacrifices.

You can't believe how effective a personal phone call from a dentist to a past client "concerned about them as I have not seen you in such a long time", or the personal letter, with a small handwritten personal note to the patient that you haven't seen in 10 months.

It amazes me how many dentists have the time to whine bout their office being "slow", but have too much pride to pick up the phone, pen a personal note, or write an email to an existing patient that doesn't have a return appointment.
So tell me- lets talk- what are your thoughts and what have you done for your office lately?

Gary Moore DDS

Please Note: Items on this blog are not necessarily the opinion of The Dental Shopper or its staff. These items may be controversial and are here for the purpose of free discussion of ideas and concepts.
Dr. Lon Uso, owner.

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