When it comes to what dreams are made of for a dentist, it is the “perfect patient”. You know what I’m talking about. The patient that calls up asking for a comprehensive exam and tour of your office followed by a second visit where they can bring their spouse in and listen to you expound upon the benefits of a comprehensive full mouth re-do. Oh, and they want to make sure you use the best materials, time is of no concern, and money is not a factor. They always say yes to your treatment suggestions and don’t have insurance but would like to pay in advance for all of their treatment in cash. Let’s add to this that they have no gag reflex, don’t even need to be numbed, could open wide enough for both hands to fit in their mouth, doesn’t bleed, and never has a problem with their temporaries. The top of the heap would be that they refer everyone they know and those referrals are even better than he/she was. Yep, that’s a “perfect patient”. Some of us might even add that she/he thinks we have great communication skills, are totally empathetic, will never hurt them, and you’re better than any other dentist they have met or even heard about. I think that pretty well described the “perfect patient” or the “unicorn client”.
Most companies that have something to sell you will use the carrot of “the perfect patient” and how they will help you attract them. Marketing companies will design a website that is like ice cream to babies when it comes to attracting the unicorn patient that is touted to be perfect. Doesn’t matter that your staff is terrible, you don’t take any insurance, every patient complains that you hurt them, your hours are terrible, and you don’t actually do what they want to get done while you run an hour behind every day. No problem. They will have those perfect patients streaming into your office after they redo your website, train your staff to answer the phone, and create multiple can’t fail marketing campaigns. They literally will have you inundated with “perfect patients”. If it is a clinical instructor with some institute with their last name plastered on their marketing, they will have created the latest greatest cosmetic esthetic institute of comprehensive dentistry, that guarantees that they will make over your struggling practice by attracting all those patients with high dental IQ, with horrible dental needs, and all the money in the world to pay for anything you want to do. Just talk the talk, walk the walk, and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to learn the secrets of excellent dentistry. Then we have the Perfect Patient Institute with their charismatic leader/speaker/author who takes his private jet around the world extoling the benefits of their multi-year program that will transform your practice into a moneymaking machine with unlimited growth no matter where you live. This institute has hundreds of minions who do the actual training after the closing expert shames you into signing your multi-year contract of promises and disappointments. I’m sure they can deliver a trove of “perfect patients” if you are willing to over-diagnose, over-spend, over-market and leave your integrity and actually serving your patients behind.
As you can see, there are unlimited sources of perfect patients, all you need to do is shovel the money out and wait to see your practice flourish. Or not. Does the perfect patient actually exist? I would wager that if we had a room full of dentists and each could answer anonymously, there would be hundreds of different descriptions for that “perfect patient”. I would challenge you to ask if there really is a “perfect patient”? Certainly, each and every one of us has had some great patients. But if we were honest, we would have to say they were not perfect. How then, if there are practices with all the new patients they want or could see, and on the other hand there are those practices that struggle to even get in 10 new patients a month, has the myth of the perfect patient survived in the minds and hearts of doctors all over the world?
I would have to say that this fruitless search for the perfect patient is a waste of time. What I often see are practices that can’t consistently attract even the average number of new patients. The average practice with 20-30 new patients per month, and the large practice that attracts 50-60 new patients per month per doctor or about 30 per hygienist each month have one thing in common: Regardless of the number or type of new patients or even the production or profit numbers, each of these practices get exactly what they deserve. Most of these practices are on the shy side of having enough new patient traffic to sustain a consistent year after year growth rate of 15% or more. The interesting thing I tend to hear is that the marketing that someone sold them or the campaigns they are currently using don’t work or they just bring in poor patients. In defining what they meant by a “poor patient”, I consistently hear that they only came in for the free exam, or the discounted cleaning, and then never came back. Or, they came in but couldn’t afford their treatment plan so it was a total waste of our time. These are commonplace excuses for poor results when we measure your case acceptance percentage and your recall record. I would challenge the term “poor patients” because, in my world, there are no poor patients, only poor systems and protocols for handling every new client. Every single thing you currently do is precisely designed to give you the results you are now getting. Like most things, our take away from the myth of chasing the perfect patient is to give the patients we have more of what they want and less of what they don’t want. Every patient that comes to you has the potential of becoming a lifetime “great patient” in your office. They show up, pay for treatment, and refer everyone they know. That is the perfect patient regardless of their clinical needs. Develop systems and a team that understands that they must have a service state of mind and your practice will grow. That is how you Summit.
Michael Abernathy, DDS