There’s no question that the current state of world affairs poses a number of challenges to dental practices. Those aren’t insurmountable challenges; however, they simply require what’s called lateral thinking.
In unusual times, it’s folly to think of "business as usual". Businesses that adapt survive; those that adapt proactively thrive. When it comes to your dental practice, it’s time to rethink how you operate.
Timing Isn’t Everything, But It’s A Big Part
One of the challenges facing dentists today is the understandable fear that patients have of being exposed to illness while they’re in your office. Most patients are used to a waiting room that includes many other people, so that fear is understandable.
Your waiting room doesn’t have to be full if you get creative with the start times for your appointments. There’s no good reason why appointments have to start on the hour, quarter hour, or half hour. That’s just what we’ve come to accept as normal.
Existing patients typically don’t need more than a minute or two in the waiting room. They can be scheduled at 5- or 10-minute intervals, leaving your waiting room largely if not completely empty. It will take some thorough planning and good execution, but it’s doable.
Your practice can also require new patients to complete intake and insurance forms online prior to their appointment. That way, those patients won’t be sitting in your waiting room disrupting your carefully planned flow.
You can also leverage technology to keep things on track. Your patients can “check in” online before their appointments and then check in from the parking lot when they arrive. Your front office can send them a “we’re ready for you” message. That minimizes the likelihood of a larger number of patients in your waiting room.
Scheduling at 5-minute intervals allows your practice to see 12 patients per hour; a good number for all but the largest practices.
Speaking Of Technology
Practices in some states may have to pause operations due to state requirements. Others will remain open but with far lower rates of elective procedures. Regardless, it’s vital to stay in front of your existing patients and prospects. If you “go dark” for any length of time, prospects will ultimately select a dentist who’s putting the message out there.
It’s time to emphasize social media even more strongly. There’s no way to know how many people’s livelihoods may be impacted, but it seems certain that a significant number will be spending more time at home. Make your Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages far more lively and interesting. That’s a great way to retain as much as possible of your existing patient base and to interest prospects in choosing your practice.
Beyond social media, whether your practice is paused or active, you need to make communication as easy and seamless as possible. Text messaging, emails (individual or mass), live phone answering even after office hours, online appointment scheduling, and appointment reminders are other ways that you can maintain your market presence and share.
The times they are a changin’, as Bob Dylan sang, and dental offices will need to change their operational model to compensate. Embrace lateral thinking, shake up your timing, and embrace technology.