In our most recent podcast, Howie and Mark discuss how pre-appointing recall patients is affecting your capacity to bring new patients into your practice. Follow our tips to see your new patient volume increase with dental appointment software!

Podcast Highlights:

  • Your capacity is killing you
  • We keep hearing this theme
  • A full schedule is cool. Right?
  • Who to pre-appoint and who not to pre-appoint
  • All you have to be is open and available
  • Online dental appointment software will help
  • So that’s the fire alarm

Podcast Transcription

Hello everybody and welcome once again to the Dental Marketing Mastery Series. This podcast is brought to you by New Patients Incorporated and I’m Howie Horrocks, the Founder of New Patients Incorporated. Along with me once again, is my friend and partner and the President of New Patients Incorporated, Mark Dilatush. 

Howie: Hello everybody. Hey, we’re back! We’ve been gone for a while, but now we’re back. It’s Mark and Howie here. 

Mark: I know, we didn’t think that dentistry would miss us at all. 

Howie: Well, we’ve been getting nasty messages like, “Where the hell are you guys?” So, now we’re really back!  

Your Capacity is Killing You

Howie: We have a whole new series of stuff coming up that we think you’re going to love! But right now, we’re going to talk about…uh…what are we talking about Mark…Capacity?

Mark: Well, yeah, we’re going to pull the fire alarm again because not enough people are listening and they’re getting hurt by it.

Howie: Yeah. Let’s talk about capacity because we hear it all the time. The doctor says, “We have nowhere to put all the new patients we’re getting.”

Mark: I’m going to encourage every dentist that’s listening to this and every office manager that’s listening to this to go take a really good hard look at exactly how far away a new patient has to wait in order to make their first appointment in your practice. We’re talking a non-emergency patient.

Because this was…there’s 3 or 4 items dovetailed in with each other with this topic. And, from what we can see – from the data we can see. And with this recent transition with NPIClick, believe me, we can see data! From hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of dental offices flying through at all times.

Many, or most, of you are unaware that your capacity is constricted and you don’t know why, and you don’t know how to fix it.

So as we rebirth the new series after our, I guess it’s been about 90-100 days. We’ll call it a podcast vacation or hiatus.

Howie: We were not on vacation.

Mark: No, no, no, we weren’t.

Howie: We were working our tails off.

Mark: For those who don’t know, we just doubled in size in the last 100 days, but more about that later.

We keep hearing this theme

This theme keeps coming across, and for those who are unaware of…unaccustomed to the work that we do, we touch base with our clients, usually at month 5 and month 9 periods each campaign year. We do a cross reference and we make sure the ROI is tracking where we thought it would.

So, when we do that the first thing we look at is – ‘When can I get in?’ If we just pretend, we’re a new patient and we’re not an emergency. I want to come in on Tuesday morning or Thursday afternoon. Just, you know, what all new patients want. They want a prime time spot open somewhere within the next 8 work days, so that they can come see you.

When I say 80% of the people were checking in with are overcapacity, I’m not kidding, I’m not exaggerating. And that’s why I’m sounding the fire alarm here. Because, I’m sure many of you listening are our clients.

Howie: Yeah.

Mark: And there’s probably many of you who aren’t our clients. Right, this applies to all, everybody listening to this.

Here’s what’s going on in your practices. Someday, somewhere, in 1946, some management consultant tried to be unique and said, “Hey, let’s pre-appoint everybody. Everybody that comes in for hygiene, instead of putting a postcard in the mail and put this stamp on it. Let’s just let them reserve some spot in our in our schedule, and we’ll hope they come in.”

Howie: That’s kind of curious isn’t it? I think the intent was that it was supposed to place some sort of guilt on the patient because, hey, we now have you in our book for six months from now so you are going to show up. Right?

Mark: Somewhere…somewhere some, I don’t know where this came from OK.

But somebody pulled this out of their Wazoo. Alright. And so they said, “No, no man just make a dental appointment scheduling right there. You know it connects the hygienist with the patient or whatever, they said, “OK.  Alright fine.”

A Full Schedule is Cool. Right?

So now, dentists hear that and staff hear that and they go do it and for a while, it works great. Right? It’s cool to look at your schedule and have it all full.

Who wants to come to work and look at it at an empty schedule? Nobody…right? So everybody goes, “Yeah, I filled the schedule with these people.” OK, the schedule is nice and full.

Then somebody has to follow up with the 30 or 40%, at best, that don’t actually keep their appointment on that day and time. So then, the doctor goes and spends more money on human resources to follow up on this business system – called pre appointing. Just to make sure that the 30 or 40%, who we know are not going to keep their dental appointment scheduling, on the day and time they made it 6 months ago. So they find some other spot that we can reserve in a future part of our schedule.

That also makes no sense OK? So we have ‘make no sense’ followed by ‘make no sense.’

Howie: That sounds kind of senseless (laughs).

Mark: Seriously, seriously… OK and then pretty soon you end up with, “Wow, my hygiene schedule, we’re booked out 6 months or more.” And the same doctor comes to us and says, “Hey I can’t take any more new patients.” 

Well, where do you book your new patients? Hygiene.

Well, guess why they can’t come in? There’s no room! OK, you filled up your hygiene scheduled with fantasy – to the point of turning off the new patients. That’s basically what you’ve done now. We’re not going to leave you without a solution. So, I’m going to do the ABC’s.  

Who to Pre-appoint and Who Not to Pre-appoint

“A” patients are people that you can pre-appoint. People that appreciate the courtesy of choosing the day and time of their wishes 6 months from now, because they make and keep their appointments. Very simple. Those are your “A” patients.

You’re “B” patients are patients who, meh, they have a hard time keeping their six month appointment without changing it for whatever reason: work, vacations, ‘oh, I forgot,’ soccer schedules, school, whatever, OK. “B” patients don’t get pre-appointed. “B” patients get a postcard or a call or some combination of recall system that you choose. That’s your choice.

“C” patients, you know – you all have them. They weren’t going to come in whether you pre-appointed them or not. They’re going to come in only when their mouth hurts. Obviously you don’t pre-appoint “C” patients. You just put them on your same recall schedule: follow-up postcard, call, postcard or whatever your protocol is and if they don’t respond OK. They shouldn’t be, they don’t belong in your, schedule.

You need to untangle the insanity that’s created by pre-appointing everyone that’s ever graced your front door. What happens is actually really cool to watch.

Now, you can’t just stop pre-appointing you have to do this other thing too. The other thing you have to do is you have to go and say, “OK, how many new patients do we get, on average, every month?”

So let’s say you go look at those numbers and say you get 20. OK, multiply 20 because now you need 20 openings in prime time in your schedule. You need to mark them a color, like purple or pink or something that’s obvious to your team. And you don’t need 20 because that’ll give you the same number of new patients you’re getting now.

You want 120% of 20 or about 24 blocks. And when I say blocks I don’t necessarily mean blocks, it could be you could paint your schedule. It depends on the practice management software. You need a visual cue to the staff that says “new patients only.” However, your practice management system works.

You want 120% of 20 or about 24 blocks. And when I say blocks I don’t necessarily mean blocks, it could be you could paint your schedule. It depends on the practice management software. You need a visual cue to the staff that says “new patients only.” However, your practice management system works.

So now, over time you’re sitting there going ‘OK well, if I don’t pre-appoint everyone and I only pre-appoint my A patients and I block 120% of the new patients I saw last month. And I do that on a consistent basis month over month over month.’ What’s going to happen?

We can tell you what happens, because we follow up with our clients. All of a sudden, magically, they get more new patients. It’s amazing.

All you have to be is open and available

Pre-appointing and not reserving time for enough new patients in your schedule is what’s causing these new patients to go elsewhere. They are calling your office – OK? They may actually be making dental appointments in your office and then bailing on them because they got off the phone with you and they thought about it or like, ‘why am I waiting 2 weeks to go to the dentist? I want to go next week.’ So they then called some other office. Since they don’t have a relationship with you, they never call you back and cancel. 

Howie: Yeah. They don’t bother calling back, and just want to hold their place in line while they check out some other practices and then if they get a better opportunity for themselves they take it and… blow you off. They don’t call back and cancel.

Mark: Yeah, exactly like having…it’s like you’re in a resort town and there’s 4 clubs. And you know, there’s lines to get into each door in each club. When there’s 4 people in your group. They’re just getting in line. That’s all OK, there just getting in line and if they go to a different club, they’re not going to tell the bouncer. They are just going to go to the other club.

Howie: Meanwhile, though they’re creating the illusion that your schedule is full now. 

Online Scheduling Will Help

Mark: Here’s where it dovetails in with the folks who are brilliant enough, to have already implemented LocalMed ™ online scheduling into their marketing mix. Your unavailability shows up online now. OK, so make sure that your portal shows your openings and that you have plenty. 

And sometimes that could mean just opening up another column, you can just email their support department they can do that with you. Opening up another column and then restricting the column to only certain days and times that you want to funnel new patients through your office.

But here’s the bottom line: you need to look and sound and be available to new patients who are not emergencies, within, 2 or 3 work days. That would be my choice…2 or 3 work days, but at a minimum within the next 8 days.

OK, if you go out and look at your schedule or you look at your online scheduler right now and you pretend you’re a new adult patient and you’re looking for your first visit and it goes through hygiene…whatever. And you see 3 weeks from now. That’s the main thing that’s stopping additional new patient flow into your practice.

OK, it is… it works, 100% of the time and most of you are suffering from it, most of you are suffering from it. Partially, because of the economic rebound. Remember we (dentistry) lost about 21 billion dollars after 2008 and it’s still recovering. So dentistry’s rebounding, but a lot of you are busier than you ever used to be.

Put those two things together, along with the constricted schedule, and you end up not leveraging your marketing dollars as best you can.

So that’s the fire alarm

Now you know what it is, now you know what to go look for, now you know how to go fix it. I’ll tell you. We’ll give you a couple little tips because we’ve chased this all the way down the road.

The person at your front desk who is tired of telling new patients your first available appointment is 8, 9, 10 days from now…In other words, it may not be your first available, remember I’m talking about prime time dental appointment scheduling, first in the morning on a weekday or last in the evening on a weekday, are your prime time appointments. You need those prime time appointments available for newest patients.

So if you go look and you say, Oh my God. I didn’t realize this. The first prime time appointment, I have is 2 weeks from now. I had no idea. Then you go paint your schedule, the person at your front desk is going to love you because she’s tired of telling people “No, the only thing I have know, for a new patient visit is 2:00 o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon.” Which is like the most inconvenient appointment in the world to everyone…on earth, OK. She’s tired of turning away new patients.

Your hygienists, if they are, nothing against hygienists, I love hygienists and don’t take this personally, but if they’re used to rescheduling and pre-scheduling from the operatory through the computer. They are going to be the ones who revolt…OK. They’re the ones who are not going to like this system and I can tell you exactly why. Because the existing system is easy. It’s very difficult to change easy, but it’s worth it. It’s stagnating your practices and it needs to be changed.

So, I challenge everyone listening to this please, please go look…ok? We see the cause and effect and we see the doctors – their whole outlook on the new patient, the quality the flow – everything changes like 180 degrees.

It’s amazing. This is not going to be an easy thing to change because if you look in your schedule right now, you probably don’t have a hygiene opening for 3 or 4 months because you been pre-appointing your whole life.

But if you start now, and start pre blocking now and go out 5, 6 months and pre-block those numbers. You’re going to be alive for the next 4 or 5 months. It’s going to come around, OK, and then you’re going to start to see the improvement.

So, your new patients go from 20, 22, 24, 26, 28, 30 – you open up that capacity and new patients will flow through.

Howie: Good one. Well, we hope you’ve enjoyed having us into your living room or wherever you’re listening to us.

Mark: Into your workout, into your drive to work, as we try to keep these to about 15-20 minutes.

Howie: So…until next. We’ll sign off now. Thanks for listening.

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