3 ways to increase patient starts and production—and the culture orthodontists must create as the foundation to it all
Practices that strive to increase production and patient starts obviously have the right intentions. However, orthodontists often run into issues trying to figure out which additions or improvements will actually help them achieve these goals. And without proper guidance, it’s easy to focus on strategies in the wrong order of importance.
You might have already experienced this difficulty in your own practice. Perhaps you invested in a new piece of equipment, marketing program or clinical training—and so far just haven’t seen the impact on your starts and production that you hoped for.
You weren’t wrong to take these steps; they are important. But you may have overlooked developing aspects of your practice that will actually have a greater impact on your results.
I’m going to dive into three specific strategies to work on. But first, it’s important to make sure you’re building on the right foundation.
Every aspect of your practice needs to focus on servicing your patients as best as possible. This is accomplished by making decisions and creating processes and experiences that affect them positively. It needs to have priority over anything else.
The power of “patient-centric”
Think about companies that you enjoy working with. Why do you like them? Overall, it’s probably because they make themselves convenient to do business with and make your experiences with them easy and pleasurable. They might even find ways to exceed your expectations whenever possible.
Basing their processes and services around their customer’s needs is by design, not by accident. They know it will separate them from their competition and encourage you to keep coming back. Shouldn’t your patients feel the same way when doing business with your practice?
“Patient-centric” is the concept of engineering 100% of your practice around the convenience of your patients. When you become patient-centric, you implement systems and processes that cater to the patients’ needs and wants, not just what’s most convenient for you and your team.
Think about your own office: How well do your processes and experiences match up to the needs and expectations of your patients? Do you think there could be weak points?
If you’re serious about increasing production and new patient starts, these three proven strategies will work for you. But becoming patient-centric is an absolute prerequisite. Successfully implementing each one is contingent upon you and your team focusing on creating a positive experience for every patient interaction.
These strategies are listed in order of priority, because each builds on the next: getting more patients, keeping them coming back, and getting them to accept treatment plans they need and want.
1. Rethink your intake process
It starts with availability. A patient should be able to reach you on the phone when it’s convenient for them: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday at a minimum. Think about it: For most, it’s easiest to call early morning before work, during a break or lunch, and in the early evening after work. The same is true for your available appointments to see new patients. You must have appointment times that are convenient, because not everyone can come in the middle of day. If your office is “off” at the same time as your patients, you’re not easy to do business with. This limits your ability to get new patients.
Then, the phone call needs to guide patients through a smooth and easy conversation in a pleasant, helpful and professional manner. When patients call in, they want to find out more about your services and schedule appointments. However, the process they encounter doesn’t always facilitate those expectations. Many times, the process actually puts up barriers that may cause prospective patients to have a poor first impression or, even worse, decide to forgo scheduling the appointment altogether.
If not intentionally handled with care, this important process can easily become anything but patient-centric. And it directly affects your bottom line by creating holes where new patients are falling out of your funnel, greatly hampering your ability to increase starts and production.
A common reason this is allowed to happen is that the intake process is seen as a basic administrative duty, when in reality it’s the gateway to your practice for new patients and a leading indicator of new patient starts. That’s why it’s critical for front desk team members to be trained on how to be intentional and proactive. This is not about reading off a script, but rather being equipped to lead the call so patients feel at ease and are guided toward making an appointment.
2. Evaluate your practice through
the “patient’s lens”
Getting patients scheduled and through the door is great, but it’s only Step 1. The next critical part that affects the number of starts is whether they’re impressed or underwhelmed by their first office visit. This initial interaction has the most influence on whether or not they’ll be back for a second visit.
It’s nearly impossible to accurately evaluate your total patient experience without really putting yourself in your patients’ shoes and seeing the experience from their perspective. That’s why every interaction should be reviewed and made better. Emphasize and train your staff to develop a “patient-centric eye,” developing the habit of always looking out for ways of making any aspect of the experience better—even if it seems small.
Start by paying very close attention to everything that affects how they feel while interacting with your practice—what they see, smell, touch, taste and hear. These are the elements you’ll be judged on. The more preparation and care you put into each one, the better and more memorable their experience will be, and the more it will positively affect your starts and production.
You’ll want to consider their experience from the moment they arrive at your office building until they leave. Here’s a short list, just to name a few:
- Ample parking that is clearly marked and easy to navigate.
Clear directions and signage to find your office.
A welcoming, clean and up-to-date waiting room.
An immediate, warm and friendly greeting.
An organized and well-decorated office.
A seamless checkout and scheduling process that’s fast and easy.
These are standards, so how about ways to go above and beyond? Again, think patient-centric, because that’s what keeps the patients coming back. As an example, orthodontic practices obviously treat a lot of kids, so how can you improve the experience of all those waiting parents? Things like drink/snack bars, workstations, free Wi-Fi and current, age appropriate magazines are not difficult to implement, but make a significant impact.
3. Acknowledge that patients accept your presentation, not the treatment plan
We’ve covered how to get more patients and give them an exceptional in-office experience. The final step to increase starts and production is making sure they accept the treatment they need and want. It’s all in the presentation. You and your team cannot take this lightly because the plans you’re presenting involve a large commitment of both money and time.
This might require you and your team to have a change in mindset and approach. A concept we’ve been talking to our clients a lot about lately is being relational versus transactional.
Transactional presentations simply deliver information. They tend to be one-sided and unemotional while focusing on the hard details such as paperwork, cost and treatment timeline. Relational presentations are tailored to your patients, relating back to their specific stories and why they need or want the treatment in the first place. A transactional presentation can feel like you’re checking things off a list, while a relational presentation feels emotional and personal to the patient.
Remember to tap into the emotional side of the treatment, like how a new smile makes them more confident, feel better and overall happier. Relaying other patients’ stories while using before-and-after photos can be very powerful. The use of stories is especially effective because they’re relatable and make it easy for patients to visualize the benefits in their own life.
It’s also important that team members who present treatment plans put the patients’ best interest first, not their own. This includes understanding patients’ financial situations and offering financing and payment options that will work for them.
First, make sure you’re working off a strong “patient-centric foundation” and that you’re always looking for ways to make it even stronger. Next, modify your intake process so it’s providing you with a steady stream of new patients. Then, create an office experience and environment that turns them into long-term, loyal patients. Finally, craft a solid presentation strategy so they accept the treatments they need and want. If followed in this order, these strategies will increase patient starts and production.