Chicago Midwinter Meeting: 5 Ways to Turn On the New Patient Faucet

February 27, 2017
Darcy Lewis

It’s always possible to bring new patients into your dental practice. You just need to use the right marketing approach. That was the message of Michael Abernathy, D.D.S., during his continuing education session at the Chicago Midwinter Meeting last week. According to Abernathy, the key to successful marketing is to make sure that the proper practices are in place before you begin.

Michael Abernathy, D.D.S., offered Chicago Midwinter Meeting attendees tips on improving their dental marketing efforts last week during his continuing education session.

It may seem harder than ever to build a steady flow of new dental patients, but they’re still out there for dentists who have drive and marketing know-how. “The ability to literally turn on the new patient faucet is still a reality,” Michael Abernathy, D.D.S., told attendees at the Chicago Dental Society 2017 Midwinter Meeting.

“The problem is that most of us just don’t know how,” he added.

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Abernathy is the founder of Summit Practice Solutions in Dallas and runs a multi-office dental practice based in McKinney, Texas. “My main practice consistently had 250-300 new patients in an area where the dentist-to-patient ratio was 1:695,” he said.

Abernathy started by reminding colleagues that successful marketing is an outgrowth of what is already happening in a healthy practice.

“There’s an old marketing axiom that applies to dentistry beautifully: Good practices who are receiving many new patients don’t need to market, but they should do it anyway,” he said. “Poor practices who are losing patients to better practices need to market, and yet they shouldn’t, because the basics aren’t in place.”

1. Make Sure Your Practice is in Order.

Abernathy suggested evaluating your practice the same way prospective patients judge a dentist.

Key attributes include hours and location, of course. But go beyond these factors to evaluate your practice in terms of how clean and up-to-date your facility is. Also consider the warmth and friendliness of your staff, how long patients have to wait for appointments and the clarity of your treatment plans and payment options, he said.

If your practice is weak on any of these fundamentals, fix them as soon as possible. “Don’t look for an external solution — marketing — to fix an internal problem,” Aberathy said.

2. Offer Generous Promotions.

New patient specials are a tried-and-true way to build a practice for the simple reason that they are effective. Abernathy suggests experimenting with an introductory rate of $1.00 for X-rays and a dental exam.

Another favorite idea: Buy billboard space in a prominent, local location and use it to offer free teeth whitening. Prospective patients can then call for details.

Abernathy has also wrapped his practice’s front windows in a custom vinyl photo banner that offers the same deal.

3. Develop a Consistent Referral Mechanism.

Abernathy showed a postcard that he has used in his practice with good results. Each patient receives it at the end of their visit. It includes three key questions: How did you learn about us? What did you like least about your visit? Would you refer your family or friends to our office?

The postcards can either be completed on the spot or they can be returned via Business Reply Mail, so the practice only pays postage on the cards that they receive.

He also goes the extra mile and encourages current patients to generate referrals by offering a $50 certificate to use on their next dental visit. Both the referring patient and the new one receive $50 off.

Click to the next page to see tips four and five.

4. Reach Out to New Residents.

When people move to your area, that’s a prime time to add them to your practice. Abernathy suggests contacting a mailing list broker.

“Ask for new residents in a 3-5 mile radius from your office,” he said. “Choose an appropriate income level for the demographic area and then send them your best new patient offers.”

5. Engage in Meaningful Community Outreach.

Abernathy and his colleagues have long prioritized public outreach to children at schools and other organized settings. He shared a flyer that goes to parents of each participating child.

It reads, “Your child had a terrific time today. There were films, balloons, toothbrushes, a dental poster contest and brushing instructions. As a public service, your child was also given a free dental exam. Areas marked in red (on the accompanying diagram) on permanent and baby teeth require attention. Please call your dentist at your earliest convenience. Provided as a public service by (insert practice name).”

The practice also had a huge success by offering a free dentistry day. They took out a newspaper ad that read, in part, “We will be donating our services to anyone who cannot afford dentistry. … We consider this a mission project; no money will be accepted. … If you or anyone you know needs dental treatment that can be completed in one day, please be at our office on (date, time).”

As a result, 200 people lined up to receive care, and the local paper wrote an article and sent out a photographer to capture the event.

But as noteworthy as these organized events are, Abernathy said there is no substitute for true community participation: “It’s important to shop and dine near your office so that people see you as part of the community.”

He also suggests cultivating relationships with local pharmacies, urgent care centers and hair and nail salons so that they will allow you to display promotional materials on site.

Above all, be consistent in your marketing approach and efforts. “Practice growth is the natural result of practice health,” he said. “Growth occurs when our message and our methods are balanced.”

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