How To Build & Maintain A Stong Dental Patient Base
An active patient base of 1300-1500 is ideal for the success of a solo dental practice that accepts PPOs. Active patients are those who have visited the dental clinic in the past 18 months. Although a dental practice may obtain the ideal number of patients, keeping a solid patient base becomes a challenge with attrition due to relocation, death, insurance changes, competition, etc. Therefore, when a dentist obtains their ideal number of patients, the next phase for the dentist focuses on replacing those who no longer visit their practice with an ongoing dental marketing campaign.
According to experts like the Oral Health Group, Cloud Dentistry, Dental Economics, and others, the average dental practice is expected to lose about 10-15 percent of its patient base annually. Therefore, a dental practice requires approximately 10-25 new patients each month to maintain a solid patient base of patients.
Dental Start-up: Building a Strong Patient Base
Building a solid patient base does not happen overnight or with the few friends and family who mention following you. In fact, many dentists have mistakenly thought that the 20-50 people they know are sufficient to carry out their business endeavors indefinitely with a dental start-up. However, reality hits after just a few months of an empty schedule and the realization that a solo practice requires hundreds of patients to really be successful.
Henry Schein, Dental Economics, and other resources estimate between 1%-2.1% of dental start-ups fail during the first five years of business. Although these numbers favor a dental start-up, slow growth, extreme stress, and a lot of worries may be avoided if specific recommendations are considered. Below is a list of 4 mistakes a dentist should avoid within the first few years of practice.
The first and most crucial step in starting a dental practice is considering the location. An area with a less favorable dentist-to-population ratio will prove difficult or even impossible for a new dentist. In most cases, low dentist-to-population ratios radically increase the chance of failure. Without the necessary populations to acquire the 1300-1500 patient base, you or someone within the area will eventually fail - never assume the seasoned dentists in the area will be the ones who fail.
Ignoring dental marketing
Ignoring marketing increases the risk of failure during the first 2-5 years of business. Although some dental practices still succeed with little to no marketing, they often succeed much later than anticipated. And this trend is changing. In most cases, dentists will require marketing to succeed as competition grows. With little to no dental marketing, some dental practices have taken 5-8 years or more to build the proper patient base. Furthermore, slow growth can vastly impact a doctor's mental and emotional state during those less profitable years. Often doctors who ignore marketing will look back and realize an extreme amount of time was wasted waiting for patients to come "knocking" when marketing could have reached profitable goals much quicker.
Focusing on dental work at the expense of the business
A dentist must understand that being a dentist and running a business are separate issues. According to US Bank, over 80% of all companies fail due to cash flow issues. Dental start-ups need to consider not only the loans to make their start-up happen but the costs of training, overhead, supplies, equipment, cash flow for the first year, and of course, the costs associated with marketing the first 2-3 years of opening. Dentists cannot risk the assumption cash flow will happen with little to no patients, or that cash flow can be ignored. Cash flow comes with building a solid patient base which takes time, resources, and effort.
Neglecting to invest in employee training
A dentist's reputation and business rely on strong employee selection and training. Ensuring employee and patient interactions are professional, clean, and considerate is crucial. The front office staff may make or break your practice, so it's vital to understand their worth in your office.
To rapidly build a solid patient base, dental start-ups should consider many different forms of dental marketing. Direct mailers, pay-per-click, social media ads, community events, and internal referrals provide great conversions as a patient base is built. Focusing on 3-5 marketing forms is ideal, and running campaigns for 12 months or more is recommended.
8 Ideas to Attract New Dental Patients and Maintain Your Patient Base
To ensure your dental practice remains ahead of attrition once a solid patient base is achieved, continuing a firm dental marketing strategy is essential. The following are marketing strategies to assist with attrition.
Website: Maintain a responsive and optimized website. You online presence will not go out-of-date.
SEO: Invest in search engine optimization (SEO). SEO allows your brand to reach more audiences online. SEO is the foundation of long-term marketing, which enables patients to trickle in each month.
Reviews: Obtain more reviews. Not only does positive feedback increase conversions, but more reviews will also drown out negative feedback or trolls who wish to damage your reputation.
Local Business Listings: Ensure local business listings are in-sync and up-to-date. A Google Business Listing (GMB) with inaccurate information can damage your reputation and mislead current or potential patients.
Community & Networking: Become involved in your community. Moreover, dental specialties rely on community events or networking. Orthodontics and Pediatric practices that sponsor schooling events increase dental practice success dramatically. And networking referrals to specialists in Endo, Periodontics, and Oral Maxillofacial are the bread and butter of the business. Not only can community involvement help dental specialists, but a general dentist can see a more significant impact of sponsoring communities.
Referrals: Focus on patient referrals. Friends and family referrals naturally become the bread and butter of most general dental practices. Trust is already established between the relationships of referrals, so a referral from a family member or friend is gold.
Pay Per Click: Pay-per-click (PPC) is essential for some dental practices and dental specialties. For example, dental practices like orthodontics require a constant flow of new patients, which means a constant, ongoing marketing campaign. Although, internal referrals and SEO will be the first go-to marketing tactics, if numbers are not favorable, a robust pay-per-click campaign is recommended.
Promotions & Incentives: Lastly, ongoing discounts or promotions facilitate interest and reach new audiences. Promotions may be advertised in a PPC campaign, Groupon, or other promotional network.
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