This article originally appeared in the January/2021 issue of the Academy of General Dentistry’s AGD Impact magazine.
Is New Patient Outreach Worth the Effort? Absolutely
Why does a patient choose one dental practice over another? Does it have to do with location, insurance or state-of-the-art equipment? Perhaps that’s how the search starts. However, once a prospective patient has narrowed down his or her choices and fills out online appointment requests, more often than not their choice will depend on which practice responds the fastest. In fact, up to half of new patients end up going with the practice that responds first.1 Therefore, for a dental practice to truly be competitive, it must have a system for responding to every request, whether it’s in the form of a phone call, email or text message, as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, most dental practices take an ad hoc approach to new-patient outreach, often relegating it to an end-of-day ritual of returning phone calls and leaving messages, not really giving it the important time it deserves. My company found that a typical dental office ends up connecting with less than 15% of prospective patients on average. Moreover, so many practices don’t have a system in place to make more than one follow-up attempt. When this occurs, the practice’s growth potential is seriously stunted because potential new patients are going elsewhere. Fortunately, there are ways to quickly engage with a potential new patient no matter how they inquire about your dental practice. But first, the practice must be committed to adopting a system for capturing information and tracking outreach efforts.
In-House Contact Management
The outreach component of a dental practice must be a priority in order to ensure that potential patients don’t end up going to the practice down the street. This means developing an in-house contact management system and dedicating time throughout the day to new-patient outreach. It also means engaging with alternative methods of communication, such as text messaging and email, in addition to telephone calls. My company has found that patients are quite receptive to communicating with their medical professionals via text and email, and many even prefer texting about appointments over answering the phone.
Let’s take, for example, a typical new-patient inquiry that comes in through a website appointment request form. Normally, the practice receives an email notification of the request, which typically sits in the inbox until the end of the day — or even several days — without being answered. With an in-house new-patient outreach system in place, the email inbox is checked at various times throughout the day, and any new-patient inquiry notifications get answered immediately, perhaps using a template. A person who is willing to take the time to fill out an online form is seriously interested in becoming a patient, and that potential patient should not be ignored.
One additional step that goes along with responding immediately is also making sure that a potential patient’s information gets stored in an organized and accessible form so that outreach can continue over time. This means using some type of system, either automated or manual. Now, if the patient does not respond to the first contact attempt right away, the office can make
and track additional contact attempts easily. In fact, it may take five or more contact attempts before the patient responds, so the office should be careful not to give up too soon.
If a patient reaches out electronically, the office should respond in kind via email or text message whenever possible to increase the likelihood of contact. A variety of services allow a business to send and receive computer-based SMS text messages.
The next step in the process is to reach out by phone, which dental offices are already used to. However, the key here is not to quit after leaving one message. In order for new-patient outreach to be effective, there must be multiple attempts over multiple days using every available channel. Letting a new-patient inquiry go just because they don’t respond the same day leaves money on the table and also speaks to the level of commitment the practice has toward growing its patient base.
This type of in-house system does take some manpower and dedication and is bound to be uncomfortable in the beginning, especially if office staff members are not keen on the idea of dedicating time to this process throughout the day. However, with time and persistence, it will become part of the routine.
There are also ways to make the entire process smoother and more automated, including using customer relationship management (CRM) software. CRM software programs offer varying degrees of automation, from the most generic, which are made to fit any type of business, to components that can be added to existing clinical management software to services dedicated strictly to new-patient outreach for dental practices. The most important factor is that, no matter which type of program the practice chooses, it will provide a way to quickly reach out to potential new patients via multiple channels, capture patient information, and keep track of contact attempts (even after hours) and patient responses.
There is no doubt that new-patient outreach is important, but it can be frustrating and time-consuming. However, with a designated new-patient outreach system plus the help of a proven system, a dental office can increase contacts by 250% or more, which means a higher conversion rate of inquiries into actual patients. And that means accelerated growth for the practice.