Free article: How to get patients through your dental practice door

Dr Shilla Talati provides practical advice on increasing your patient base, including ideas for practices on a small budget.

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Summary

There are many ways to encourage patients to choose your practice, including simple things to create a presence for the practice.

  • Getting all the staff involved and trained to attract new patients helps to promote the practice and keep the staff energised.
  • Creating a practice ambience inside and out will help to entice the patients to choose you.
  • Having an online presence with a website, Facebook, Twitter etc. grabs the attention of potential patients who are researching your practice.

There are many ways to encourage patients to choose your practice, but many practices don’t do even simple things that could get them noticed. Allocating some of your budget to advertising your practice will involve a bit of strategic planning. Background research, such as looking at your competitive market and seeing what works for them and what you notice about them, will allow you to create a niche for yourself.

Small budget

Even if you have a small budget, there are still many ways to increase your patient volume and practice revenue. So let’s start by asking you a few questions:

  • What have you done to get people to know you in your community?
  • Are you active in the local chamber of commerce?
  • Do you give talks to local schools/universities in the area?
  • Have you networked with other local businesses or networking groups?
  • Do they know you exist?
  • Have you held free children's afternoons for special events like Halloween and Easter?

These are simple yet effective methods of getting people through the front door of your practice. They involve spending little or nothing. I’m sure staff would be happy to help do something different every so often to promote the practice, and a lot of these things they can do themselves. You could set up a mini competition to see which staff can pull in the most patients at an event and reward the winner with a small gift. You could also set up local lunch and learns, or free seminars in the evenings, but the main message is to be active in your community. Try to make your practice name known. You could also speak to the health editor or events organiser for the local newspaper, so that they cover any events that you may be holding.

Another low-budget yet effective method is to get your current patients to be your practice advocates and refer other people to you. This works even better if you create incentives for them to do this, such as gift cards, discounts, thank you cards and goodies.

Medium budget

Do new patients always get through to you on the telephone or is your telephone line always engaged? A second line could potentially alleviate this problem and allow you to catch every caller who rings your practice.

How does the outside appearance of the practice look? Do passersby notice your practice? Are there simple signs to notify drivers that there is a practice here? These steps could increase the number of new patients that come through the door. However, once they are through the door, are you making efforts to ensure that existing patients keep coming back through it? Make sure your practice not only plays the part but looks the part too. Is your practice decor up to date and looked after? Are patients treated well when they do come for their appointments? Is the patient’s journey always consistent and above average? Do your existing patients want to return and rave on about how good you are?

Another marketing method is to plan a series of articles in the local newspaper on various aspects of what your practice has to offer. This will allow the practice to be noticed on a regular basis and people are more likely to remember it.

Make your practice special by hosting an open day/event. Send out invitations to local businesses and friends in the area. Do a press release to invite the media to cover your event on its grand day. This will also energise the staff and regain the novelty factor which your practice may be losing. Practices can lose patients as a result of becoming stale.

Get some advertising materials together to give away in monthly prize draws or competitions, which again could be advertised in your monthly newsletters. The merchandise should have the practice details and logo on it – we all know that everyone loves freebies! Give away calendars, notepads, pens, fridge magnets, coasters, mouse pads etc. depending on your budget.

Look up the local listings for dental practices in your area. Add vital information to the websites that list your business, such as your practice hours, contact information, address etc. This is free to do, and it enhances your profile.

You could also sign up to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest and create potential customers through this. Practice videos posted onto YouTube could also be useful ways of attracting potential patients to your practice.

Large budget

Have a fabulous website designed by an expert. Use this website to allow your patients to book an appointment directly with you; make your contact details obvious, educate your patients, update your site regularly and build your credibility by posting patient testimonials/videos on it. Use multiple websites to post your information on and link your website to. However, creating a website is only one part of the jigsaw: don't forget to make sure your website is out there by optimising it, so that potential patients can see it and find it easily when they do searches. And remember to keep a record of where the patients are finding you when they do come to the practice.

Utilise a business coach, to help you create more ideas. You may realise there are many things you could be doing, but you may not be sure how to do them.

Send a monthly newsletter to your patients. This will help to strengthen your existing base. Patients’ email addresses can also be used to send other communications through such as messages about their appointments, birthday wishes and follow up treatment letters.
Have a billboard made for your practice and place it in an area close to the practice. Apart from attracting interest, a billboard also creates an image and enhances the practice’s presence.

Although a lot of today’s society will use the internet, don't forget that there are many who still like phone books. If you can afford it (as they do charge quite a bit), it may be worth advertising in a phone book to gain more recognition.

Place adverts in local magazines to target certain groups of patients. As most magazines will be kept longer than newspapers, it may be money better spent.

It’s not rocket science …

The marketing – as well as the energy levels – that you put into your practice need to stay fresh in order to keep both staff and patients interested in what they do. Regular monthly updates and brainstorming will help to create new and different ideas to persuade your existing patients and potential patients that this practice is worth being part of.

Toolkit

Use the following items in the Toolkit to help you put the idreas in this article into practice:

About the author

Shilla-picture-cropt

Dr Shilla Talati BDS graduated from Guys Hospital in 1999 and has been in general dental/private dental practice ever since. She was a partner MD of Dental Perfection in Coventry for several years where she had a special interest in the management side of her own practice. She has run several courses for the GDP in general practice and is now involved in practice management issues including staff training, compliance monitoring and staff motivation. To contact Shilla on any of these aspects in general practice, email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

First published in Issue 2 of Dental Practice Manager magazine.

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Click here to take out an annual subscription to Dental Practice Manager Magazine Online and get unlimited access to this vital information.

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