In 1987, Dr. Dwayne Schmidt, DDS, (1929-2013) of Cedar Rapids, IA, began the program he called Doctors with a Heart Day. That same year, after reading his book on Million Dollar practices and speaking with him after a seminar, we have had a “Free Day” every year for people in need in our city of McKinney. Initially it was a mission opportunity for me one summer when my kids made it impossible for me to go out of country on a mission trip. The impact on my practice in terms of the positive perception within the community resulting in a nice increase of new patients also made it an incredible marketing decision.
Many have copied his brilliant idea to give back, but few have equaled Dr. Schmidt’s caring and compassion for those who have a need. I still remember the first year we did this and how the cars wrapped around the block while people began to line up hours before we opened. Over 200 patients were seen that day. NBC and CBS along with two newspapers and one radio station covered the event while various businesses sent food for the patients and their dependents.
Many offices use this very effectively to market their practices and reach out to the community they serve. Some do it at Valentines, some at Thanksgiving, some Christmas, some during Dental Health Month in February. When you do it isn’t critical, getting the word out is everything. This will be a day you donate your services to members of your community — free of charge. You won’t be doing extensive crown and bridge or cosmetic work. You will be doing a lot of extractions and fillings. Remove the practice furniture from the reception area and set up folding chairs. (These can be borrowed from a local church and will allow you to increase the number of people in your reception area.) People will start lining up outside the office early in the morning. By the time the doors open there may be hundreds of people in line. You don’t make a traditional chart for anyone. Use a one page combined health history/tooth chart/treatment record card and print any x-rays taken and attach them to the temporary record. You see patients as quickly and efficiently as possible, moving from room to room. We even placed a folding chair outside of each room as an “on deck” staging place for the next patient. Your hygienist(s) and/or assistant(s) will have the x-rays printed and ready to go prior to you entering the room. Remember, you’re providing basic services to people who would otherwise be unable to see any dentist. The amount of work you do will be determined by the number of patients you choose to treat and the number of patients that show up.
Now, let’s get back to “getting the word out.” You must do at least two things. First, contact all local churches to place an announcement in their weekly church bulletin for a couple of weeks ahead of the event. You should provide, in writing, a suggestion of exactly what they should say. Make it easy for them — something that will require little or no effort on their part. Second, put an ad in the local newspaper or city magazine. If you approach it properly, the newspaper should be willing to publicize the event at no cost to you — or at least a reduced charge from their normal advertising rate. Also, ask the newspaper about sending a reporter/photographer on Free Day for pictures and a “human interest” article/story. This is where the benefit multiplies, as your entire community reads the story and appreciates this service you have provided. Even if the newspaper can’t or won’t do a story, you and your team will still feel great (tired, but great) at the end of the day, having helped a large number of people who otherwise would have gone un-helped.
I would notify TV and Radio stations about the event approximately 24-48 hours ahead of the actual day. We always had our staff take photos of the event and do short interviews with satisfied patients prior to their leaving. You could even take short videos with your phone so that following the event you could forward or email them to every radio station and TV station in your area. Just make sure that you do everything you can to promote the “Free Day” event before, the day of, and afterward.
You will know that you hit a home run when you start having people that are not your patients referring others to your practice. Decide today that you definitely will do this and go ahead and set the date. Call me if you have a question. This is how you Summit.
Michael Abernathy, DDS