Last updated on September 23rd, 2020 at 10:34 am

Greg Winteregg, Dental ConsultantFrom the days in my dental practice through my time here at MGE Management Experts, I’ve seen a variety of internal problems that can cause a dental practice to lose potential new patients. Sifting through all of this, here’s what I’ve found to be the “top four” issues – along with what to do about them.

#1 Phone Mismanagement — Do you have a receptionist or a “bouncer”?

This topic alone could be an article in itself. But, let’s break it down into one simple concept:

The person who answers the phone is supposed to schedule anyone on the other end (who is not a patient) to come in for a new patient exam.

The employee answering the phone is not there for the purpose of “filtering out the bad patients,” finding out if they have insurance, quoting fees, etc. All they should care about is what that prospective patient needs help with and get them in to see the doctor. The receptionist doesn’t have psychic abilities A Nurse On The Telephone At The Reception Area In A Hospital(well, none that I’ve worked with did, anyway…), so they can’t diagnose over the phone. And for that matter, they can’t diagnose period. There are no crystal balls that will tell the receptionist whether this is going to be a great patient or not. The only way to find out what the patient really needs (and whether or not they’ll be a good patient), is to get them into the office to see the doctor.

If the staff in the front office understand and apply that one simple concept, you can get ten to twenty more new patients per month with no additional marketing.

You may think, “But my front desk person does try to schedule appointments…” Trust me, when you really look into how phone calls are being handled, you will likely be surprised by how much room for improvement there is. I have heard plenty of calls with prospective new patients recorded for training and marketing purposes from doctors across the country. Let me tell you—I would describe 50% or more of these as shocking. The doctor had no idea that this was happening in their office. They couldn’t believe it, but it explained a lot. And it’s not like these front desk people were bad — they just really hadn’t a clue about how to get a new patient in the door!

We cover this subject thoroughly at the MGE New Patient Workshop. Just by changing what’s happening on the phone you can see more new patients as early as the next day or week!

#2 Patients Can’t Get In Soon Enough — The “Waiting” Game.

It’s a pretty typical situation for a new patient to call only when it hurts. Do they wait until it hurts because they are losers with a low dental IQ? No! They put off having dentistry because they don’t like needles and drills inside their mouth. I think that’s pretty reasonable, myself. I don’t like having them in my mouth, either.

fobiSo when they muster up the courage to call in for a new patient exam, let’s give them a break and not make them have a week or two to talk themselves out of it (or find another dentist that will relieve their pain sooner).
New patients should be seen within 24-48 hours — regardless of the type of appointment. I’m not talking about emergencies here. I’m talking about a run-of-the-mill new patient initial exam. Don’t drag things out. Don’t give them time to change their minds. Ideally you would get them in the same day. While that may not be possible, don’t make them wait so long that they talk themselves out of it.

In my office, we would pre-block two slots per day per hygienist for new patients. When they called in and asked to get their teeth cleaned, we could usually get them in within one or two days. This made a tremendous difference in our new patient numbers. For more ideas about this, come to the MGE New Patient Workshop.

#3 Refusing to See Emergency Patients the Same Day they Call In — It’s called an “Emergency” for a reason!

There are two ways you could look at a phone call from a new emergency patient:

This is someone who is in pain and needs our help. This is also an opportunity for our office to impress them and hopefully get a loyal patient, or

This is a pain in the @## patient who doesn’t care about their teeth. They are ruining our beautifully scheduled day and if we squeeze them in, we’ll have to work through lunch, make our quality patients wait, and possibly go home late, and so on.

Well, I’m here to tell you that you can have your cake and eat it too.

My practice looked forward to emergencies. We saw them the same day they called in and we went to lunch on time and ended our day on time. You can do the same. All you have to do is follow one basic golden rule of handling emergencies:

Woman with toothache

The doctor doesn’t spend more than five minutes with any emergency patient.

It’s too simple. All you have to do is get the patient out of pain with some kind of palliative care, i.e. smooth the rough edges of a broken tooth or write a prescription for antibiotics, etc. We get into trouble when we start crown preps or root canals in an already packed schedule. So don’t do that.

The purpose of the emergency visit is twofold:

1.       Get the patient out of pain, and

2.       Present the treatment they need to restore the tooth.

There are certain situations where this wouldn’t work, but for now let’s take a look at how this can work. The patient is in pain. They are hard to numb and the procedure is uncomfortable and takes longer. Diagnose what they need, write them a prescription if needed, then have a staff member spend some time with them getting them to accept what they need to save the tooth (i.e. a crown or root canal, etc.).

I generally endorse that the dentist gets the treatment accepted themselves, but when working an emergency patient into an already busy schedule, that probably isn’t realistic. So have a staff member spend some time with them and see if you can convert this emergency patient into a new patient. It won’t always work but you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Besides, let’s help them!

Sad to say, but good customer service seems to be dying a slow death in American business. Let that emergency patient know you care about them and are going to help them with their problem TODAY and get them in the book.

We cover the complete procedure on scheduling emergency new patients at the MGE New Patient Workshop.

#4 No (or Ineffective) Marketing — Marketing doesn’t work anyway…right?

When I graduated from dental school, the idea prevalent in our profession was “only desperate doctors have to promote themselves.” The key to success apparently was: Do good dentistry, take good care of your patients, and get involved in your community…and everything else will “take care of itself.” I’m not sure if that ever worked but it definitely isn’t going to work today. It’s time to enter this century…it’s time to promote yourself.

Marketing-Management1Those who promote are not desperate losers. They are good business owners. Businesses that are promoting right now are going to outlast their competition who refuse to promote to “save money.” Oftentimes, even poor promotion is better than no promotion at all. (Although, let’s be clear: I don’t recommend poor or half-baked marketing efforts. It’s so easy to learn how to do this right at our New Patient Workshop that it’s a no-brainer. There’s really no excuse for ineffective, wasteful marketing anymore.)

Real success is assured to the business owner who knows how to properly promote. Just like with any other profession, there is a correct way to do something and a way to mess it up. The way to do it right is to base your promotional campaign on surveys of current patients that are coming in that you want to get more of (i.e. the ones that show up, don’t care what their insurance is going to cover, and do what you suggest). They are definitely out there. We teach you all about this at the MGE New Patient Workshop.


New patients are important. They are the vital force that keeps your practice alive (and growing). I hope this gave you some insight into what areas may be giving you trouble. If you really want to master this aspect of your practice come to the MGE New Patient Workshop. It does what it says—you can learn how to “Turn Your Practice Into a New Patient Machine!” We deliver it in New York, our Florida office and in Southern California.

For dates, give us a call at (800) 640-1140 or visit our webpage. 

I would be happy to get into more detail on any of this with you personally. Simply call (800) 640-1140 and ask for me or email me at info@mgeonline.com.


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