Where Have All the New Patients Gone? Angela Weber


by Angela Weber

The movie Field of Dreams made the saying, "If you build it, they will come" popular in the late 1980s, but for orthodontic practices, this folksy phrase does not hold true. Hanging up a sign announcing that you're open for new patients doesn't necessarily mean that anyone will show up at the office door. A medical practice is a business after all, and all businesses have to continually market themselves.

If your orthodontic practice finds that it's lacking new patients, then the time has come to rev up your marketing machine. No single one of the following tactics should be considered to work as a surefire, single solution. But if you use them together, new patients will start showing up and keep arriving steadily.

1. Focus on Referrals
Referrals to your practice happen when you're not around, but that doesn't mean you're helpless to influence word of mouth. Make it easy for patients to refer you to people in their social circles. Leave plenty of business cards around the waiting areas, and have your staff offer reminders during patient interactions. Even better, create incentives — such as drawings, gift cards, or a free month of treatment — to patients who refer you to a friend. For professional referrals, again think about how you can facilitate and encourage dentists to send their patients your way. One idea is to visit their offices regularly (If you don't want to go, send an outgoing staff member). Arrive with snacks, but don't just drop them off. Visit with a purpose. Talk about three exciting things in your practice, leave cards or referral slips, and let everyone know how you much would appreciate their referrals.

2. Turn Team Members Into Advocates
Don't forget about another great referral source — your staff. After all, they have a personal interest in seeing your practice succeed. Once again, make it easy for them to spread the word throughout their social circles. Give them business cards with a spot for them to write in their names. Develop a program that rewards team members individually or as a group, depending on your office dynamic. Incentives could include a pizza party or paid days off.

3. Direct Mail
Direct mail is nothing new, but this marketing tactic sticks around because it works. To get the most out of direct mail campaigns, use them strategically. The greatest response will occur within two weeks of the mailing, so include a limited-time offer to create a sense of urgency. In addition, be aware of what may be going on in your prospective patients' lives at the time. One good time to grab their attention is when the school year is winding down. Or send out a campaign in August to encourage patients to beat the back-to-school rush.

4. Target Local Businesses
All medium and large companies in your area provide health insurance to employees. Find out which companies use the insurance plans you accept; you may even discover that many current patients all work at the same place. The next step is to spread the word about your practice within that company. It can be tricky to get your foot in the door, but your first stop should be the human resources department. Although they legally can't show preference to any one provider, HR departments enjoy bringing in third parties to help them educate employees about health issues through health fairs, seminars, newsletter articles and e-mails.

5. Work Your Recalls
Past marketing efforts have doubtlessly attracted some prospects into your practice who haven't signed up yet as full patients. Maybe they medically weren't ready for your services, or maybe they still wanted to shop around. Whatever the reason, don't let them slip away. You've already invested time and money in bringing them in the door, and clearly they're seriously interested. Close the deal by staying in touch with postcards, phone calls, or e-mails.

6. Optimize Your Web site
Every day, potential patients in your area are going online and searching for healthcare providers. Obviously, when they search for an orthodontist in a search engine, you want your name to pop up. Then, you want your website to convince them to pick up the phone. Search engine rankings give more weight to sites that have been updated recently. A blog on your site, with new posts even just once or twice a month, will keep it fresh and current. A clean design with well-written copy will convince prospects to call.

7. E-mail Blasts
At the moment patients decide it's time for orthodontia work, you want the name of your practice to be in front of them. E-mail blasts – containing health tips, practice news, or promotions – are an inexpensive way to stay "top of mind." Services like Constant Contact and Vertical Response make designing email blasts easy, and they offer great tracking tools. But for email blasts to work, you need to be constantly capturing e-mail addresses. When you ask new patients for their phone number, address and insurance information, ask for their e-mail addresses, too. Collect more addresses at health fairs, at community events, and on your website.

8. Social Media
As Americans increasingly gravitate to online communities for their social connections, the word-of-mouth referral stream is moving online, too. Positioning your practices within social networks will make referrals easy to pass along. Although Facebook focuses on personal friendships, businesses are welcome. The site allows businesses large and small to set up their own Facebook pages for free. Patients can become a "fan" of your practice, giving it their seal of approval, and now their friends become aware of your page. It's simpler than a traditional referral. Keep your practice active on Facebook with status updates and fun posts.

9. Get Involved in the Community
Consumers prefer to patronize businesses they like and trust, and community involvement builds that goodwill. Your patients tend to be young, so get your practice involved in what matters to younger age groups. Sponsor athletic teams and after-school activities. Purchase ads in yearbooks and church newsletters. Make educational visits to schools, and take part in volunteer opportunities.

10. Create Positive PR
You're doing great things in the community, so let the community know about it. If you are sponsoring an event, offering discounts to cleft-palate patients, or volunteering at a health fair, post about it on your website, blog, or Facebook page. Certain times of the year like National Children's Dental Health Month (February) or National Facial Protection Month (April) lend themselves to strategic public relations efforts. Another idea is to offer yourself as an on-call expert to print and broadcasts journalists whenever they need the insights of an orthodontist for a story. See if any talk radio programs might want you as a guest.

Author’s Bio
Angela Weber is the marketing director for OrthoSynetics (OSI), a business services firm that assists orthodontic and dental practices utilizing a full service, turnkey management approach to address all non-clinical practice functions to gain better efficiencies and profitability. Services are also offered on an a la carte basis. For more information visit www.orthosynetics.com, or e-mail aweber@orthosynetics.com.
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