When things get tight and we finally look at the numbers, we all turn to asking the same questions: “Why don’t I have more new patients?” “Why can’t I pay my bills?” “What’s wrong with what I’m doing?” It all comes down to “peak demand times”.
When we spend money on marketing, change our hours to be more convenient, or embrace consumerism, we all hope someone will call. Then it falls upon the shoulders of the most important person in the office (with the most important piece of technology in the office: The phone), the receptionist, to convert the call to a visit. I was traveling to the airport when a doctor called my cell phone. Like so many calls I get, he just started talking. No introduction, no idea of who I am talking with: Just a frantic question. It seems as though he had lost or fired a front desk person and one of the applicants was coming in about an hour later, and he was in a tizzy to know what to ask them. He had caught me in a little bit of a sour mood due to the traffic I was stuck in so I just asked: “Why are you having her come in for the interview?” There was dead silence on the other end of the phone. It was like I had just dropped the call. Finally he responded that he didn’t understand the question. I asked: “What does she do all day?” He said answer the phone and schedule our patients. My response was: “Why aren’t you interviewing her over the phone then?” If her job is inspiring your patients all day long over the phone, why wouldn’t you want to conduct the interview over the phone first to determine if you wanted to go any further with the candidate? He got the point and I helped him understand the interview process along with the questions and personality profile of the ideal receptionist.
Every new patient you will see first calls the office. It is rare for someone to just walk in off the street. Even if this does happen, they will still meet your receptionist first. They still have the same job, inspiring our patients by being caring and compassionate, but just face to face. These new prospective patients are going to say one of two things:
1. I need to get my teeth cleaned.
2. I have a problem and would like to see the dentist.
Regardless of the request the answer will always be: We can help you with that or just a simple “yes”. Any other answer will lose the patient. We have got to stop creating barriers or thresholds that we require our patients to overcome in order to get into our practices. It’s called the threshold test. What are you doing to prevent the patient from saying yes and making an appointment? I have heard them all.
- We never clean teeth on the first appointment.
- We don’t take your insurance.
- We’re not open the hours you want to come in.
- We want you to spend an hour and a half visiting with the doctor discussing the benefits of comprehensive dentistry, hue, chroma, and emergence profile, after which you will spend an hour with one of our assistants gathering information so that you can come back for another hour with your significant other and discuss your treatment options.
- We only take cash and will not assist you with your insurance.
- We charge too much.
- We never listen to what the patient wants…..
You get the idea. Anything other than “yes” will ruin it.
At this point we have finally arrived at what I wanted to talk about. A very subtle,rarely discussed issue of “peak demand times”. This is the one part of consumerizing your practice that most offices overlook. Peak demand times are one of the keys to stream lining scheduling, decreasing cancellations and nobshows, garnering increased referrals, and assuring a full and profitable schedule. If I were to ask any front desk team member when most patients want to come in, you would hear a 100% consensus in the answers. It is always early in the morning (7-9), and late in the afternoon (3-6), and all day Saturday. These times that your patients feel are the best times for them to visit are your peak demand times. Fail to be able to accommodate a patients request for these times and you will notice more missed appointments or no appointments at all. Far too many of us measure our marketing success by the number of new patients who schedule an appointment. This is exactly opposite of what you should be looking at. We want to measure the calls generated by the marketing, not the appointments scheduled. If you get lots of calls but few appointments, where does the fault lie? It is not the marketing. It delivered the call. It is the front desk person answering the calls, the answers given, or not saying yes to a patient’s request. Time and convenience is huge and the only person who gets to vote on whether you have consumer hours is the potential client. Create the hurdle of no peak demand times available and you have committed the unpardonable sin in the patient’s eyes.
In researching this article, less than 5% of you had peak demand times available on the doctor’s or hygienist’s schedule. Even fewer had it available within 5 days of the call. Sure, you had time on your schedule for new patients and additional work. You just did not have it during peak demand times. Your office chose to fill peak demand times with unproductive recall patients because you lacked the skills to organize your day for productivity and profit. That means none of these offices should be marketing. All of them will have low new patient numbers. Few will be at the top of their game, and most will have terrible overheads. Because your front desk and hygiene departments don’t understand the basics of scheduling, they have failed to guard peak demand times for the new patients and really productive procedures. They thought that their job was to fill in the blanks so that there would be a patient on each line. They even extended the work for one patient longer than necessary only to fill a void or to look good. They don’t have a clue as to how or why you should engineer a schedule for productivity and consumerism.
Let’s look at a few ways to free up your schedule and create more productive peak demand times for new patients and productivity. Let’s look at the hygiene schedule first. Your goal should be to reschedule 90%+ of the existing patients for re-care following a hygiene appointment. With this in mind there are several rules we need to consider.
1. Never schedule more that 70% of any day in the future. You still schedule over 90% for re-care, but you never fill any one day’s schedule more than 70% full. In this way we have the time for new patients and more comprehensive care like soft tissue treatment. So what do you do with the other 20% you have rescheduled? They go in another column knowing that you will need to hire another hygienist, or use that column to fill in cancellations in the future after
the new patients have been accommodated.
2. New patients will always want peak demand times and statistically they will want to be seen within 5-10 working days (2-3 should be your goal). This is a tall order when we look at your schedules. If you cannot free up these times by adding more days or Saturdays, and engineering your schedule by keeping in mind how peak demand times dictate the flow of the day, you will see a slow decrease in new patients and productivity.
3. Try to schedule future appointment with the idea of not giving away your peak demand times. I know this is difficult and I don’t expect you to win 100% of the time but consider this: These re-care patients already love and trust you. You are much more likely to persuade them to take a time between 10-3 than any new patient. Consider this: If you could make this happen just two times a day, we have created the time in the future for two new patients during peak demand times. Multiply this by the number of hygienists or days of the month worked and you see the power in making small changes at this level. Even once a day would create peak demand times for an extra 16 patients a month.
The Doctor’s schedule is much the same. When scheduling treatment for the future keep in mind the importance of your productive cases. They will all want peak demand times. Keep in mind that the doctor will be checking new patients more frequently during peak demand times because hygiene has created the ability to see the patients when they want to be seen. Think peak demand time all the time. Look at your schedules and figure out if you meet the demand for consumer hours. Go one step further and engineer your schedule to create more peak demand times for future new patients. Do this and watch your profits soar.
Michael Abernathy, DDS