The second-most important question you can ask a new dental patient

May 8, 2015

New patients are one of the constants that need to occur in a dental office for the practice to continue growing. Many offices spend a large percentage of their revenue on attracting new patients while others sit back and hope that the new patients will somehow find their office.

New patients are one of the constants that need to occur in a dental office for the practice to continue growing. Many offices spend a large percentage of their revenue on attracting new patients while others sit back and hope that the new patients will somehow find their office.

Free checklist: 5 tips for your new dental practice business plan

How do your new patients find you? This is a question I often ask a doctor or office manager who has just told me that they need more new patients. Most of the time, the answer is, “Some from here, some from there.” How a customer finds a business (and a dental office is a business) should be the second question, right after asking for the person’s name.

“Who may we thank for referring you to our office?”

It is an easy, non-intrusive question and one that most people expect to be asked.

As I continue in the discussion with the office that needs more new patients, I will run a new patient report or a referral analysis report. Often, the referral source for the patient is blank. How does a business owner know if the marketing money being spent is effective or if existing patients are pleased enough with their experience in the office to mention the office name to friends or family? When I ask the office why the referral source is left blank, the most common response is, “The patient left it blank when they filled out their information sheet.”

More from the author: 3 things your dental practice can learn from Starbucks

What is the best, easiest way for your office to gather this information? I believe it begins with getting everyone to understand the value of the referral source. Let’s break this part down:

Everyone in the office understands the importance of new patients.

Everyone understands the pain associated with openings in the schedule.

Everyone understands that if the schedule stays full, there is a happy doctor and (if in place) a bonus or bigger bonus.

If everyone knows that most of the new patients last month came from the entire staff asking for referrals, the push for likes on Facebook, or from a major employer in the area, the staff can continue to put their energy in that direction.

Everyone can take part in making sure that referral source is gathered and noted in the patient chart.

More from the author:6 reasons why you're having employee turnover ... and how to stop it from happening

Promoting a practice is a team event and understanding the importance of each and every new patient is vital to the team promoting the practice. When Suzy, the scheduling coordinator, is entering information in the computer about a new patient, the referral question is asked before the appointment can be scheduled.

Knowing that the referral source is very important, Suzy will ask the patient, “Who may we thank for referring you to our office?”

There are three options when entering this information:

By patient – In a general dentist’s practice, 75% of new patients should be coming from existing patients.

By other – These are all the marketing sources. This list includes all current marketing efforts such as a newspaper, neighborhood newsletter, or flyers mailed out. Additionally, you would want to note any insurance companies you are in network with to determine which patients found you from their websites (after all, that is a marketing source as well). You can also note if the patient mentions your website, the Internet, and depending on your location, drive-by, walk-in or even noticed the new sign you just put up. If you have a spring bleaching special that you are advertising, give it a referral source name to determine how many new patients came in because of that special. All this is to determine the ROI (return on investment) for your marketing money.

Most dental software programs allow you to put in your list of referral sources, so it should be seamless to include how the patient found your office.

By provider – This is the option to use if another provider referred their patient to you. Possibly Dr. OralSurgeon down the street had a new patient who came in and didn’t have a general dentist. You can include in this list any provider in which you refer.

When a new patient calls the office, he or she will typically remember where they got your name, possibly from a friend or they have just selected you from the insurance company’s website. If you wait until patients come in and fill out their paperwork, they will often have forgotten where they heard of you. Make this step easy for everyone to understand so they can gather this information.

When you analyze your new patient numbers, knowing where these patients came from is a great thing to share with your entire dental team. A follow up, to an existing patient, with a thank you card is icing on the cake.

Free Checklist: