Your first easy win in 2017 By Robert Powell. January 4, 2017.
I know it’s not terribly exciting but follow-up calls, emails and texts to your patients are a very shrewd investment because they’re low cost and the returns are great. They are the first easy win I tend to look at when I visit new clients looking for rapid revenue growth in an established practice.
It’s kind of obvious when you think about it: dormant patients already know your practice and no doubt like it, and probably just need a few nudges to come back, whereas you need to spend far more to persuade a new patient to walk through the door. Of course, new patients are typically more valuable initially but existing patients provide the bedrock of financial stability for your practice.
Dormant patients are those that had an appointment between two and four years ago but have not been seen since (those older than this are considered lost). Patient recalls, however, are all about booking patients in for their next six month check-up. Incredibly, 15 per cent of practices only send one recall per dormant patient, and the average recall effectiveness of dental practices is just 57 per cent according to SOE, a very baggy figure indeed.
If you are an average practice then you can zero in on your other 43 per cent really easily and cheaply: simply use at least three recalls of different types per patient in a multi-stage, automated process. Recall effectiveness is measured as the number of patients who return over a three month period around the date of their required check-up. Over time patients do drift back but practices should put in place a robust recall methodology. Automation increases effectiveness to between 77 and 90 per cent according to SOE .
It’s best to book patients for their next recall as they leave the surgery because you can have a face to face discussion and the patient chooses the best time for them, whereas in six months’ time the morning or afternoon they favour may not be available. Psychologically, the patient has made a commitment to the practice and is less likely to be persuaded by competitive offers to go elsewhere.
For those that don’t book, ensure they have a valid recall date and that your recall procedure kicks in, however you do it. Automated is best as it takes out the human interface; we all know that things get in the way of carrying out routine duties so the more that can be automated the better. An invite to book should be sent one month before the due date — don’t send them out all at once or you will have a meltdown on your phones, send them staggered over the month. Send a second invite to the non-responders a month later and follow this up with a third “overdue” message.
Text messages are the most effective at 45 per cent (email only works 10 per cent of the time). Vodafone says that 97 per cent of texts are read within three minutes, whereas email gets filtered out, ignored or not even delivered. Continue to contact patients over an extended period of time: at six months, 12 months, 18 months; research shows that patients do respond even after two years.
Using different media helps. If patients don’t respond to text, send an email. If they don’t respond to either, use the phone or a letter. There is evidence to suggest that letters are still effective, and increasingly so among the younger generations because getting a letter is a novelty for them. The cost of letters can be reduced by using a franking machine or alternative mailing house.
Here are some patient recall rules of thumb
- Offer all patients an appointment for a future visit before they leave. For those who can’t make one, arrange a call back at a suitable time for the patient. Have a system in place to remind the receptionist to make the call.
- If patients are booked in they need an email reminder three to four weeks before their appointment is due to give them time to reschedule if they need to, and your practice time to fill the gap in the diary. Then a subsequent reminder one week before (email or text) and a final text reminder 24-48 hours beforehand.
Book in an audit of your current patient reactivation and recall system with me to see how you can tighten things up and boost your revenue with your first easy win in 2017.
“New patients are more valuable but existing patients provide the bedrock of financial stability for your practice”
Robert Powell, head of performance reporting