A potential new patient calls the practice. They found you in an online search, or saw an ad for a procedure you do, or heard about you from a friend. They would like to make an appointment. What do you do?
If you’re like most practices, your receptionist will thank the caller, welcome them warmly, ask appropriate questions, and look to find the next available slot in the schedule for a new patient that also works for the caller. Which seems like a fairly obvious and perfectly reasonable approach to take. But it is an approach, I believe, that overlooks the urgency of the appointment.
A new patient visit is an urgent appointment, regardless of what they are coming in for, because the relationship is very fragile at this point. They have no real connection with you yet, so in the days that follow they may check out another dental office that catches their eye online, especially if they are eager about getting a particular procedure done. Maybe another friend will hear them talk about their recent “new dentist” search and come up with a recommendation of their own. Maybe they’ll just change their mind. The fact is, even after they have appointed, you haven’t really enrolled them into the practice until they have had their first visit.
That’s why I suggest that every new patient gets an appointment within 48 hours of their initial call. That may sound like a difficult thing to accomplish, but it is usually quite simple if you are using a scheduling template that reserves time for new patients based on your practice’s history and goals. It’s important to make space for those new patients, as it creates the right energy and sends the right message about how much you value them.
Ask the patient if there are any days or times that don’t work for them. Then say, “Based on the needs you have described, we can see you on_______.” Moving quickly to get them in the office is a powerful way to impress a potential patient in today’s instant gratification consumer environment. And of course, it gives you the opportunity to start creating that all-important emotional bond.
If you are concerned about people who are just shopping around and may not even show up for the appointment (after all, you know nothing about them, either, at this point), try to make it a point to get them in right before lunch or at the end of the day, where a no-show would have limited impact on your schedule.
Also, that first appointment doesn’t have to be a full-length exam - it can be a brief “get to know you” visit, where they fill out some paperwork with a treatment coordinator and meet the doctor for a few minutes. Just enough time for them to absorb the culture of your practice and to start identifying as a patient. Then, if things work out well, you can extend the appointment if possible or bring them back soon for a full new patient exam.
Of course you want to gather some basic intelligence on the patient even before that first visit. You do that by asking a few basic questions during the initial call - questions such as: When have you last seen a dentist? When was your last hygiene appointment? What motivated you to call today? All of that is covered in this online course about conducting an effective first phone call - part of a series of courses that break down the entire New Patient Experience process.
The point here is that a new patient appointment should not be treated like any other appointment. A request to join the practice is something you have to respond to with urgency, and that means making accommodations and changes to the schedule if necessary.
A new patient is taking a leap of faith in making the commitment to your practice; you want to reward that leap and cement that commitment as soon as possible. Don’t give them time to second-guess their decision, or to keep considering other options. Get them in your office within 48 hours and have them walking out thinking, “I have a new dentist.”
(Click this link for more articles by Imtiaz Manji.)