The worst is behind us! (hopefully…)
These are the sentiments we hear every day as we work with the top dental practices across North America. Cautious optimism abounds. Dentists are aware, appreciative, and nervous.
Almost everyone is thankful to be back open. Many are overwhelmed trying to fit in all those patients “missed” during the shutdown. Some are struggling with an uptick in no-shows and last-minute cancellations. A few are looking ahead to a very barren landscape for their hygiene team in September, October, and November.
We cannot change what happened last week, last month or in March. However, we can increase our chances of success in the future. Now is the perfect time to make decisions and take action to fill your hygiene schedule for the remainder of 2020. What you do in the next 2 weeks will make or break how you finish the final 4 months of the year.
With this challenge near the top of most priority lists, we turned on our ears and compiled a list of what we have been hearing from other dentists like you. The following 7 ideas are things the best and brightest dentists across the US are doing to make sure they fill their hygiene schedules and avoid the “COVID recall blues” this fall.
Here is an outline of the 7 ideas. Click on any 1 to go directly to that section. Or, read all 7 to become the smartest hygiene marketer in town:
Utilize a 4-Month Hygiene Recall Option
All dentists have those patients who need “a little extra attention” during cleanings or just do not do a great job with homecare. In addition, it is our understanding that almost all insurance companies have waived the “6-month and a day” requirement for hygiene visits due to the coronavirus. Your patients are entitled to 2 “preventive” appointments during the 2020 calendar year, and it is up to you on how the scheduling is handled.
This means those patients you saw in May (some states), June and July can be appointed for their next cleaning in September, October, or November.
If you have already scheduled these patients for 6 months out, it will take a little extra effort to accelerate their next visit. However, it could be worth it. Most patients will appreciate your awareness and willingness to help them maximize their benefits while helping prevent disease which could result in more costly, future treatments.
Another “hidden” benefit of this effort is that your hygiene department will appreciate the “smoothing” of demand during the first 6 months of 2021.
Eblast Your Current Patients
Even though the last 2 or 3 months have been among your “best ever”, there are still hundreds of patients who missed appointments earlier in the year and have not yet been reappointed. Some may still be nervous. Others are just busy and not thinking about you.
In any case, it is the perfect opportunity to utilize professionally-written and designed emails to engage and activate them. These emails are not the same as the templates and texts available via the patient communication software systems, and the results speak for themselves.
Recently, we did just this with one of our clients in the Bronx NYC. Our plan was to send a series of 3 emails. The first was focused on their new safety protocols. The second on convenience (and safety). The third on financial and payment options (given the economic hardships many are facing).
We did not even make it to the 3rd email.
The first 2 generated an overwhelming response. In total, the emails were delivered to 1,787 of their patients. More than 1,200 opened at least one of the emails (71%). More than 100 clicked to learn more. 65 confirmed patient appointments were made.
Create a Custom Safety Video
Everyone says people are riding their bikes and reading more as a result of the pandemic. Maybe. People are also spending a ton of time streaming everything from The Mandalorian to cornhole tournaments.
Recent research shows “safety concerns” are the #1 factor for people selecting a new dentist. These concerns are also the #1 reason patients are not coming to see you. We can correlate a recent increase in the number of “broken” hygiene appointments with the “summer swell” of COVID cases in many states.
Your job is to make sure every patient knows your office is among the safest places in the world. You were wearing masks before it was cool (or mandated), and you have invested a ton of resources to make your practice even safer.
And, show them with a custom video that is highly visible and very personal. It should be sent to every patient 2 days in advance of their appointment and feature you and your team. Let them know what you have done to make it absolutely safe to visit. And, let them know how much you value their trust and confidence. This “little extra step” is likely to save a broken appointment now while generating positive word-of-mouth and referrals that could fill openings in September, October, and November.
Reappoint No-Shows & Cancellations to the Fall
In many practices, the goal is to get a “good” patient who no-shows or cancels reappointed as quickly as possible. That makes sense in normal times. Today, it might make more sense to “push” them back into September, October, or November. This is especially true if you still have a backlog of current patients waiting to get their teeth cleaned.
Also, this approach should reduce the chance of a no-show or cancellation the next time around – for 2 reasons. First, the patient will place more value on their next appointment because of the extended wait. Second, time will help them realize your practice is safe and has even more experience treating patients in the post-COVID world.
Launch a New Patient Promotion
It is a great time to play some offense. While many practices scaled back their marketing during the COVID shutdown, the most successful never missed a beat. They shifted their focus to what patients needed, but they did not take their foot off the gas.
For example, many of our clients ran their most effective Google Ads campaigns ever during the shutdown. They focused on dental emergencies and attracted high-quality patients from other dentists who were closed. Not only did these practices generate short-term revenue, but also they attracted amazing reviews, lots of goodwill, and new patients for life.
This same attitude can work now. Google and Facebook click costs are still below pre-COVID levels, and there is a pent-up demand from patients who have not been to the dentist since 2019 (or before). An aggressive effort to attract new patients now will help fill September, October, and November while setting the table for a strong 2021.
Nearly 30 million Americans have lost their jobs since the pandemic started. For many, these lost jobs are accompanied by lost benefits and increased economic pressure. Patients still want to see you and take care of their oral health. They just cannot afford to do it.
Dental Membership Plans are one way for you to provide these folks with an affordable alternative. These plans facilitate monthly payments that fit their budget and allow patients to get the preventive care they need today while reducing the chance more costly treatment will be needed in the future. You can set the program up yourself or utilize companies such as Kleer to make it easy and seamless.
We see many benefits to Membership Plans as a proven alternative to dental insurance – even in strong economic times. They can help you build relationships with the millions of patients who are self-employed, work in small businesses, or are retired. In times like these, they can also generate loyalty and commitment from your current patients who are looking for another way to smile.
Mine Your Database
Never has it been more important to truly understand the nuances of each patient. All practices have some sort of recall system in place. Less than 5% have a system based on analytics and intelligence.
As we study the practices that have thrived over the past few months, some common themes emerge. One of the strongest is the use of data intelligence software. Whether they are fans of Dental Intel or Practice by Numbers (or another option), these dentists have embraced the power of this information.
As a result, these practices know which patients to call – and when and why. They understand patients who are “at-risk” and those requiring special accommodations. They know who has missed numerous appointments. They know the patients with insurance benefits about to expire along with those who really should not wait to start their treatment plans.
Putting it All Together
This knowledge coupled with a proactive approach to communication means fewer patients slip through the cracks. It also means more patients will be ready, willing, and able to fill those openings in September, October, and November.
This list of ideas from some of the top dental practices in North America should provide hope. It should help you realize the future is in your hands. No practice will implement all 7 programs. However, every practice can select 1 or 2 and make them happen.
If your hygiene schedule through the end of 2020 is already full, congratulations. If not, time is on your side. You have a couple of weeks to take definitive action to engage your patients and to transform what appears to be a barren landscape into an oasis of opportunity.
Of course, let us know if there is anything we can do to help.
About The Author
Tim Healy is one of the founders of TNT Dental, the #1 creator of custom websites and marketing strategies for dentists. Recognized as a leading expert in helping dental practices attract new patients, Tim has a true passion for teaching dentists the important “business stuff” they do not teach you in dental school. If there is anything Tim can do to help you, please do not hesitate to contact him directly at the office, (877) 868-4932, on his cell, (214) 680-1270, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Of course, you can always visit www.TNTDental.com to learn more.