When it comes to practice growth, most dentists focus on attracting new patients, but is that really what your practice needs?
Read below to know for sure.
Our general rule of thumb is that if a dental practice is providing comprehensive care to patients (and retaining existing patients), then roughly for every 100 new patients that come into the practice, one new hygienist should be added to the team.
If your practice is adding new patients regularly, but you're not expanding your team, this is a sign that there are other problems in your practice that need to be addressed before you look to drive new patients.
Here's an example of what often happens...
One of the practices we spoke with recently was a large, multi-doctor practice. They were adding 450 new patients every month. Based on this new patient volume, they should be adding a new hygienist to the team every 6-7 days. When asked how many hygienists they were adding in an average month, the answer was zero.
This means that the practice was seeing 450 patients come in and 450 patients exit each month. Additionally, the practice was in a competitive market where attracting new patients was expensive, so they were spending a lot on marketing.
While they can continue pushing to drive new patients, it won't improve the business because they're spending their money trying to fill a leaky bucket. To improve their financial performance, the team needs to focus on patient retention, case acceptance, and other key parts of practice growth.
In the previous example of the practice with 450 new patients per month, most people imagine a bustling practice full of patients each day. But, just because a practice has a lot of people coming through the door doesn't mean that it feels busy.
When we explain these new patient ratios to practice owners, they usually point out empty ops and open appointment availability. When the practice feels slow or quiet, an easy assumption to make is that the practice doesn't have enough patients.
When practice owners have a quiet few days, there's usually a knee-jerk impulse to spend more on marketing to fill up the chairs.
This impulse can be damaging to the performance of the business because it's based on a gut feeling rather than concrete practice performance data (PLUS new patients are expensive).
One of the reasons a focus on new patients can hurt the business is that new patients are very expensive relative to existing patients in 3 key ways.
The case acceptance rate has a big impact on the overall performance of the practice and research shows that new patients accept less care on average than existing patients. It takes time to build trust with patients, so patient retention is key to long-term practice success.
Bringing a new patient into your practice requires extra administrative time resulting in higher appointment costs relative to existing patients.
Attracting new patients (particularly in competitive markets) can be very expensive, cutting into the performance of the practice.
The best way to grow your practice is to focus on the most pressing problem first. Now that you have a better understanding of new patient flow numbers, here are the next steps:
If you find that you need more new patients, the first thing to do is to start measuring and improving your call conversions.
Did you know… on average, 40% of the incoming calls to a dental practice go unanswered? And, statistically, 1 in 10 of those phone calls is a new patient (click here to listen a recent podcast episode where we discuss this).
(NOTE: This is the case for almost all of the practices we meet with.)
If you're attracting enough new patients every month, but you're still not reaching your practice goals, then there's a problem in one of 3 areas: case acceptance, patient retention, or capacity. The good news is that these problems can be fixed without an influx of marketing dollars.
If you have enough new patients coming in the door, then reaching your goals involves improvement in at least one of the following areas:
Are patients moving forward with needed care? If case acceptance is low, it's incredibly difficult to improve patient health and improve the performance of the practice.
(Click here to listen to a recent podcast episode on how to improve the case acceptance rate.)
Patients today have more choice than ever. If patients aren't sticking around in your practice, it's a problem that needs to be fixed.
If your team does a good job retaining existing patients, costs are reduced and practice performance rises quickly,
If patients are coming in the door, case acceptance is high, and patient retention is high, then it's likely time for the practice to expand (see below).
By adding additional hours, operatories, and staff, the practice can grow and thrive.
These are signs that the practice is out of capacity. Capacity blockages are notoriously hard to spot, but once alleviated, practice growth is immediate. (Click here to listen to a recent podcast episode about how to find and fix capacity issues in your practice.)
If you're looking to grow your practice, the best way to start is by letting us put together a plan of action for you and your team.
Schedule a call with us and we'll talk through your vision for the future of your practice and put together a custom plan to get you the results you want.
Click below to set up your call: