Most health-care professionals rush
to invest in marketing only when their
market changes or when their business
is declining or facing slow growth.
A balanced marketing plan must be part of our growth
and profit strategy, especially during these challenging times.
The mix should include internal and external marketing,
advertising, etc. External marketing, such as advertising,
alone is an option with no ensured return. Internal marketing
is centered on the patient with the goal of ensuring loyalty
so that current patients will invite new patients.
The number of GP referrals is decreasing (48 percent in
2007 vs. 41 percent in 2009) while the number of patient
referrals has increased (30 percent in 2007 vs. 35 percent in
2009) as reported in the 2009 Orthodontic Practice Study;
Journal of Clinical Orthodontics, December 2009. Patients
evaluate quality orthodontic care based on different metrics
than many orthodontists. Orthodontists often define a successful
case as Class I occlusion, financially profitable, etc.
Patients define their excellent orthodontic treatment by the
manner in which they are treated – whether or not they are
seen for their appointments on time, if the office location
is convenient, were there few emergencies, was treatment
completed on time, etc. They naturally assume that their
teeth will be straight and they will have a beautiful smile
once treatment is completed. For quality internal marketing
to ensure patient referrals you need to make sure you
exceed their expectations in the areas that they feel are most
important to them. As the orthodontist, you will continue
to provide them with the best occlusion and that beautiful
smile they expect from you.
Now is the time to evaluate your office. It can be
very eye opening to have someone who has never visited
your office walk through and give you feedback.
What is the environment in your office? Does it project the
feeling that you want your patients to experience? Every doctor
and office should develop the experience they would like
to provide their patients when they come to their office. This
is different for every orthodontist, office and demographic
region. Is this a fun and exciting environment? Or does the
office project a more traditional or conservative feeling? The
environment and feeling should match the doctor and the
physical space you have. Review all of your written and verbal
materials. If you have not had a revision and a fresh look
in the past five years, it might be time to look at a new brand
for your office. There are many very good marketing teams
that can give you a new look possibly without a total revision
and large expense.
To determine if your office is in need of changes ask
yourself and your team some important questions:
Asking these questions will help determine what technology
and which products or training is needed to make sure
you are providing the best patient care possible.
- Are your patients seen on time?
- Are your procedures completed on time?
- Is treatment completed on time?
- Is equipment to perform procedures available?
- Are clear protocols developed?
- Is training provided?
A good start on defining your patient expectations is to
survey your present patient base. What is important to them? How are they judging you and how are you at addressing
their needs? Once you define who your patients are (where
they work, where they go to school, etc.) and what their needs
are, then you can establish a patient plan that will exceed their
expectations and allow you to gain patient referrals.
Your patient plans should include each step in their
treatment from the initial phone call through graduation
from retention. The plan will define what will happen at
each step, who is responsible, who is their backup, full
scripting for consistency, the transition into the next step as
well as an introduction to the team member that will be
working with them at their next visit. Having patient plans
in place will ensure that each patient moves through their
treatment smoothly and consistently. The same quality care
will be provided to each patient and each team member will
be able to deliver a message of consistency.
When developing your patient plan, do not let present
constraints alter your perfect plan. Disregard present physical
space, present team members and any other restrictions
to build the plan you would like to work toward.
Once you understand what the ultimate goals are, you can
determine which will be short-term goals and which will
be long-term goals with more financial investment.
Including present conditions in your plan will not allow
full development of the patient plan. Look at what is
needed in each step of the patient plan to provide the
patient experience you have defined.
If new technology is needed in your office, use your
resources to help determine which will be the best fit for you
and your practice. Technology is not a one-size-fits-all concept.
There are many excellent options on the market that
should be explored prior to making a financial investment.
Using your colleagues and study groups is a great avenue for
accurate information on how the implementation worked in
their practice. In doing this, you can find out what worked
well for them and where their challenges were. The use of
consultants can offer an independent view that might give
you a different insight to the product.
During a patient’s visit to your office, reports show that
they will have four contacts during the visit. Developing a
consistent message that can be delivered by each team
member at each contact will assure your patients that your
team is a unified force. There should be guidelines and
Clear guidelines in these areas will empower your team
to deal with difficult situations and patients. Once patients
learn the guidelines for your office, and as long as each team
member follows them, the attempts to bypass the system
will decrease. It is very important to have your team trained
with the proper verbiage skills to deliver the guidelines to
the patient in a positive manner.
- Cancelled appointments
- Missed appointments
- Emergency Visits
- Oral Hygiene
A job description for every position in your practice is a
critical piece in the development of valuable team members.
You cannot expect employees to perform to your standard
unless you are clear as to what the expectations are. When
team members are hired they should be given a clear job
description as well as a timeline and training to fulfill this
position. Often, when experienced team members are hired,
they are simply placed into the position without clear definition
of their role in the office and what is expected of
them or the training needed to fulfill the position. This
presents a system failure – not an employee failure. Make
sure they have all the tools and training needed to become
a valuable team member.
Now that you have a plan for each patient to move
through treatment you can ask some important questions.
Do you have the team to deliver this patient experience as
it is defined in the patient plan? It is important to evaluate
your team to confirm that all team members are able
to deliver the quality care you desire and have the necessary
training and equipment. A performance-planning
session with each team member will evaluate their present
role in the office and will determine if this is the best position
for them and for the office. Specific goals should be
set for the year – both personal and office goals – along
with a list of training and equipment that will be needed
to reach these goals. If there are existing employees who
are unable or unwilling to provide the quality care you
want to provide, it might be time to review their place in
the practice. If you have team members with the right attitude,
training can move them to the level necessary to fit
the needs of the office.
In order to retain quality employees you need to understand
how to fulfill their needs. I believe a good place to
start is beginning to understand what your employees want
from a workplace. After all, if you know what your employees
desire in a work environment, you simply need to provide
it and all will be well. This is a great theory, but
research shows that employers are not that successful at identifying what their employees actually want. In fact there
is a significant disconnect between the things that employees
say are important to them, and how highly employers
rank those same things.
The first step in understanding key factors in retaining
employees is to allow each team member to prioritize their
needs. In this exercise each team member will receive this
list. The doctor (or doctors in a multi-doctor practice) will
receive the same list.
Team members: Review the list of items below and select
the one most important to you. Continue to rank the remaining
items in order of most important to least important.
Doctors: Review the list of items below and select the
one you feel is most important to your team members.
Continue to rank the remaining items in order of most
important to least important.
A one-on-one review of this information will ensure that
each team member has the opportunity to express their areas
of importance. Once you have this information you can
establish communication and goals for the upcoming year.
Making sure the employees’ goals match with practice goals
can allow the doctor to determine the fit for employees in the
team and practice. This can also be a determining factor for
retention of employees who cannot meet the practice goals.
- Full appreciation for work done
- Feeling “part” of things
- Sympathetic help on personal issues
- Job security
- Good wages
- Interesting work
- Promotion/growth opportunities
- Personal loyalty to workers
- Good working conditions
- Tactful discipline
Now you have the patient plan in place and the team on
board to deliver the highest quality patient care. Each team
member has specific personal and office goals (from the performance
planning session) for the upcoming year. Specific
training time needs to be set aside to allow them to accomplish
these goals. Too many times, new technology or products
are introduced into an office without any training for
the team. We have all experienced the purchase of an item at
a meeting, brought back to the office and used without any
instruction. Besides not getting the full use out of the technology
or product, there is often misuse of products that can
cause bond failures and other clinical issues.
The most common complaint patients have with an
office is being seen late without any explanation. Many times
when working with an office I hear, “We have to keep the
exam on time.” I agree that each appointment should be
kept on schedule but without emphasis placed on any specific
appointment. If the exam appointment is kept on time
at the expense of the clinical flow, the reputation of the office
might become negative. During a patient’ orthodontic treatment
approximately 90 percent of their care takes place in
the clinic. As patients exit treatment and reflect on the care
they received they will place more emphasis on the times
they were seen in the clinic over the one time they were seen
for their one initial exam appointment. All appointments
need to be started on time and finished at their scheduled
out time for the procedure.
A good rule to remember is: Promise your performance,
perform as promised. Following your schedule template will
allow procedures to start on time. Starting on time is important,
but finishing each procedure as scheduled is just as
important. Many feel that if the patient gets into the chair on
time for their appointment, they will be happy. You need to
make sure that you can complete the procedure in the
appointed time in order to start the next patient on time.
This can be a vicious cycle that is the downfall of many schedules.
I recommend that the clinicians document their OT
(ending time) for their procedure to help keep them on track
during an appointment. The template should be built to
allow each clinician to complete the prescribed procedure in
the allotted time. If a patient arrives late for their appointment
the clinician should accomplish all that can be completed
in the appointed time.
Remember, the goal for today’s successful orthodontic
practice is to “exceed patient expectations.” I challenge you
to exceed yours.
|Andrea Cook’s in-office, hands-on training motivates and energizes
orthodontic clinical teams. She bases training systems on
practical knowledge gained through 20 years chairside experience.
Andrea works as a clinical consultant and trainer for premier
orthodontic offices across the country. Since effectively
training clinical team members is a critical portion to the
advancement of clinical productivity and profitability, Andrea
works with teams to increase efficiency, improve communication
and guides the office to a new level of excellence. For more
information on developing and implementing patient plans, job
descriptions, running your clinic on time, or other clinical and
sterilization needs, please contact Andrea Cook at 253-332-
3376 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit
her Web site at www.andreacookconsulting.com.