By John Ross
One concrete observation that my partner Lynette Conway has made after hundreds of consulting visits to dental office in the US and Canada is that if you cannot book new patients into the office within 24 to 48 hours, then the chance of them becoming no-shows increases rapidly with each passing day thereafter. Let’s look at the reasons for this phenomenon. The first is that people these days are not as patient as they once were. The second is that if someone is looking for a dentist, they may be experiencing pain or have some other pressing need that is driving them. The third is that many people are dental-phobes, that is, they are afraid of going to the dentist, so if they work up the courage to call for an appointment, then they need to be seen ASAP so that they don’t have too much time to think about it and decide not to show up for an appointment is 2 weeks or a month, because if you check, you will discover that that is what is happening: They are not showing up.
This brings up the issues of front office attitudes about new patient scheduling. For some reason, may front office staff members seem to be proud that their schedule is full for the next 8 to 10 weeks. At times, office staff will say things like “No, an appointment this month is impossible,” almost scoffing at the patient who is trying to get in to see you. Although it is a great thing that you have a full slate of patients coming in to your practice, to potential new patients the only thing that comes through is that “I can’t make an appointment with this dentist when I want.” If you don’t believe your office would ever do that, then get a friend to call your office and try to make a quick appointment. Frequently the practice owner is the last to find out that potential new patients attracted by you marketing campaigns (that cost good money) are being discouraged from coming in as soon as possible.”
If you are serious enough about growing your practice that you are spending money of social media and traditional media to bring in new patients, then you need to be serious enough to set aside time to get them in to see you as quickly as possible, or your competitors will. Block scheduling is the best way to make that happen. Leave aside an hour a day just for new patient visits and have faith that your marketing will bring in patients. Make certain everyone knows when new patients come in to welcome them to the practice. You can hedge against loss of revenue by keeping a list of existing clients who might be willing to come in at short notice, in the event that you do not have a new patient scheduled for that day.
Also, many offices have different views of what a first visit entails. For some it may be a good time to get to know the patient and tell them about your office. Let them meet staff and get a quick tour of the office. This type of visit may be part of a new patient campaign that offers an initial exam for free. Then do a cursory exam and then schedule a new time to come in for a profy and pan X-ray. Never underestimate the power of “FREE exam” to attract new patients.
For others, the new patient exam may involve a complete cleaning, X-rays and full exam. The point of this is that if you have block scheduling, then you are dedicating yourself to growing your new patient numbers.
Once your office sees the advantages of block scheduling, many staff members say that they don’t know how they ever did without it. So if you are wanting new patients (and who isn’t wanting more growth?) then consider block scheduling. It is a leap of faith, but one worth taking.