How to grow your dental practice in a competitive market


One doctor shares how focusing on the patient experience has helped his practice succeed.

I recently had the opportunity to interview a friend of mine, Dr. Sam Delahunty. Dr. Delahunty owns Canyon Rim Dental in Salt Lake City, Utah. His practice is a successful fee-for-service practice in an area that most dentists consider to be oversaturated. His success in growing his practice in such a competitive market while not being in network with any insurances made him a prime candidate for me to interview. It should go without saying that if this has worked for a practice not accepting insurances, it should work even better in terms of new patient volume for those who are in network.

Can you tell me one main thing that you have focused on to grow your practice in a competitive market?

We have done a lot of different things when it comes to marketing, but to be honest, the only reason that any of them work is because we have put so much effort into the patient experience. I know there is a lot of talk in the industry about providing a good patient experience, and I think that is really important. In our office, what it boils down to is allowing the time necessary to connect with the patients. We take a customized approach to providing for our patients’ needs. We never compromise quality for time.

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I get what you are saying, but I feel like a lot of dentists try to do that. What do you feel has made you so successful in your efforts?

I think a lot of people do what they think patients want rather than actually getting feedback from the patients who make up their ideal patient demographic about what they want.

I think this is really important because one demographic could want to get in and out as fast as possible while another could want to be pampered.

When I first bought my practice, I started out by reading good reviews left at practices that were similar to mine and seeing what they said they liked. This helped mold my approach. As I started implementing these things and gaining the trust of the patients, I was able to ask patients what things they would love to see happening at their dental visit.

For our office, the main things that people wanted were to understand what was going on and to feel valued. If you have ever read positive reviews about other dental practices or your own, there are a good number of them that say something to the effect of, "They made me feel like a person rather than a number.” This is what our patients were communicating to us, so we focused on this very heavily.

There are a lot of things that try to get your attention throughout the day. You need to be in the moment with the patient focused on what he or she is saying. I stress this to my entire team. If you can learn how to tune out the distractions and do this, you will find that a lot of things happen much more easily. It seems simple, but believe me, it's not.

Sometimes I find that people add in a lot more distractions in the form of bells and whistles before they master the connection aspect of dentistry. Those things are great if they don't take away from the time you need to communicate with your patients.

I'm assuming those things help bring in patients through patient referrals then, am I right?

Yes, that is one of the main ways that focusing on those things is driving new patient flow. Also, it has helped us build a good reputation online so that when someone finds our website, they can find good things about our practice. This is really important to patients, too.

Also, we help give a little motivation for patient referrals. We have what we call “smile cards” that we give to patients. If they give them to a friend and their friend brings the card in, they get a $50 credit on their first appointment. We then send a thank you card to the patient who referred. These cards will typically include some sort of customized thank you gift that we know will mean something to the patient.

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Most dentists I know have a specific gift that they send to everyone. What made you decide to customize those gifts?

That is all part of getting to know the patients and making them feel appreciated. If you spend time listening to them, it is not too difficult to come up with something that will let them know you were listening, and they really appreciate that.

How well is this working?

We usually get between 20 and 30 new patients per month just from patient referrals. I know that there are offices getting hundreds of new patients per month, but we are really happy with this success rate as a fee-for-service practice.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone who is just starting out, or who is trying to ramp up their practice, what would it be?

My advice would be pretty simple. Decide what type of practice you want to be, then use your brain and your resources to figure out how to make that happen. There is a lot that you can get distracted by when building a practice. Focus on the things that matter in building the practice YOU want.

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