How can fee-for-service practices compete with insurance-driven practices?

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Recently, an online dental discussion group brought up this topic:

How can fee-for-service practices compete with those who are in network?

There were a lot of ideas from the group like:

Have the dentist call the new patient the night before to say she is looking forward to meeting them.

Get up from the desk and walking around to greet patients as they enter.

Recognize special events in their lives.

Acknowledge when you are behind schedule.

Provide stellar customer service.

All good suggestions. But if it comes down to numbers, you won’t be able to compete simply on that level. There are TWO DISTINCTIONS above all else that will give you an edge.

The FIRST DISTINCTION is to identify what makes you distinctive. What do you provide that your insurance-driven colleagues can’t or don’t. Are there services that you are particularly known for such as TMJ therapy, sleep apnea solutions or sedation dentistry? Is your specialization one that is unique and notable? Do you offer second opinion consultations? Do you have a comfort dog at the practice?Without something compelling, you are just another dentist. Whatever that distinction is, name it and claim it. Identify who your audience is and above all else, remember the second distinction.

SECOND DISTINCTION: Build your entire practice around this question:”How can we make our patients lives better than when they first walked in?”  You see, no one goes to the dentist for no reason. People have complicated lives and one of the last things on their list is you, the dentist. They only contact you when they believe you can help solve a problem they have – then they want you to go away. And their expectations are usually low because their previous experiences (in an insurance-driven office) were probably less than stellar in part because no one cared to learn about what was important to them. So, the more you and your team develop exceptional behavioral and problem-solving skills, the more you will learn about your patients and what they care about. Everything you do from there is built around that objective: “How can we make your life better than when you walked in?” Identify the answer to this question and remember it throughout each stage of the process. Provide individualized care, fashioned just for them and keep going back to what problem, in quality of life terms, you are helping them solve.

All the other things such as calling patients to find out how they are feeling, acknowledging birthdays or asking about their vacation, even filing insurance on their behalf are nice but it won’t keep a patient from switching practices because they have insurance.

What will make the difference is your unrelenting desire to solve your patient’s problem so they feel good about the experience and can go on with their lives. That is what will distinguish you from everyone else in the marketplace and for a lot of people, that is worth the difference they are willing to pay from what insurance will cover.  It’s really very easy once all the systems and the right people with the right skills are supporting you.

We help dentists evolve their practice to this new model.

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High Cost of Doing Nothing Part 1: Marketing Basics for Dentists

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Herb’s practice was struggling. His new patient flow had dwindled and after practicing for 30 years, he had become resistant to change. The thought of promoting his practice went against his long-held beliefs that it cheapened the profession. So, he did nothing.

On the other side of town, Sam had built her practice from the ground up. That was two years ago. And while she used her street smarts to market her practice, she wasn’t feeling confident that her time and money were being used in the most effective way.

High cost of doing nothingThe simple truth is, if you don’t tell people who you are and what you do, they will not become your patients. In today’s marketplace, there is a very high cost for doing nothing.

And while marketing is not usually the dentist’s area of expertise, it is essential to have a strategic marketing plan. Here are some basic rules that every dentist should know and use to guide their decisions for implementing a solid marketing plan. Successful marketing comprises of a combination of five key components:

REACH – Target your message to the specific group or groups you wish to attract.
If you are a pediatric or family dentist, you want to focus your efforts on targeting and appealing to young families. On the other hand, if you specialize in exquisite implant-supported dentures, you will want to reach out to affluent seniors. The more specific you can identify your niche in the marketplace, the more targeted your reach.

FREQUENCY – Send messages and send them often.
Each message or “impression” builds on the last. Consumers rarely experience one exposure or message and remember your name or what you do. It requires multiple impressions for a potential patient to connect with who you are and what you offer.

CONSISTENCY – All messages should speak with one voice.
Focus on identifying your niche and brand and tie together your messages with visuals and content that are similar. One logo, one font and color palette, one positioning statement, consistent approach and style.

VARIETY – Send your marketing message through a number of different avenues.
Identify unique opportunities in your community to raise awareness of your practice and cross-promote whenever you can. This will help increase your REACH and FREQUENCY. For instance, sponsor a charity event or a sports team, billboard presence, host a talk radio program, health fairs, personal letter of introduction to new residents, targeted print publications or magazines, collaborative relationships with other businesses, active community involvement such as Rotary and Chamber of Commerce.

TOP-OF-THE-MIND PRESENCE – Connect with patients when they are likely to need you. It is difficult to know or plan for your messages to connect with people at the very moment they decide they need a service that you offer. But if you are committed to a campaign that focuses on REACH, FREQUENCY, CONSISTENCY and VARIETY, you are more likely to connect.
So, when someone is “in the market” for your services and they either search online for or come across your information, they will think, “I know them. They are familiar. They are known for (fill in the blank). I’ll give them a call.” It is familiar to them because of the marketing foundation you have previously laid.

IMPLEMENTATION
You must identify goals, and develop a plan and timeline for your marketing. This will likely require the support of a team member who is fully capable of helping you in this endeavor. Make sure this is included in her job description and she is given the time, tools, and authority to make it happen. If you don’t have the resources on your team, reach out to a local marketing specialist to help you deploy your marketing plans.

EVALUATION
When you are developing your marketing strategy, also plan for evaluating the results of your efforts to insure you are making good use of your investment of time and money. How will you assess the effectiveness? What indicators will you use and at what stage will you review the campaign and make course corrections, if necessary?

CONVERSION
If you spend time, effort and money to implement a solid marketing plan, you better have your internal house in order AHEAD OF TIME.

This is HUGE. You want to make sure that when the target patient you attracted through your marketing, calls and visits your practice, the experience matches what they have come to learn about you. If it isn’t exceptional, you’ve wasted your time and resources. Many practices make the mistake of spending large budgets on marketing their practice only to lose potential patients at the beginning of the relationship because their staff lacks the skills to connect with them in significant and meaningful ways.  In my opinion, this is the most common marketing mistake made!

Contact me to receive a marketing questionnaire to help you clarify what you are doing now and what you should focus on. And if you would like help reviewing your systems, communication skills, practice perception and marketing strategy, I invite you to call me for a more in-depth conversation.

Smile Gallery No-Nos

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What’s a dental web site without good Before and After photos?

But honestly folks, most Smile Galleries, or Results pages or Before and After sections – whatever you call it – they seem to fall short. Most of these pages look like a hot mess and I’ll tell you why.

Most dentists don’t understand why people visit that area of their web site and what those future patients hope to find. I believe it is because most dentists are looking at something entirely different. They are looking at their artistry. Their patients, not so much.  Please understand that what is appealing to you is not necessarily appealing to your patients. Frankly, while the intricate, artistic work you are trying to showcase may impress you and your colleagues, it is lost on most patients. Yes. I said it.

I believe that people look at these pages to imagine what might be possible for them. They want to “dream” and envision how they might look and how their life might be different. They might attract someone and develop a relationship, they may get that promotion, they might develop new-found confidence, maybe begin a whole new career path, or it could be as simple as feeling comfortable enough to smile again, or chew steak, or bite down on an apple. Anything you can do to help them connect with that feeling can encourage them to take that first step.

Here are my Top 3 Before and After No-Nos

No-No #1: Close-ups of just mouths

Detached mouths without faces are not compelling to patients. Besides the teeth, there are other subtle nuances that aren’t so attractive – namely male facial hair. Ugh. It really detracts from the beauty of the dental work. And while the work you’ve performed may be impressive, what they see does little to help patients connect with the benefits. I encourage you to display full faces instead of just mouths. It actually makes the difference even more dramatic and helps bring the humanity to what you do.

No-No #2: Scary Before Images

Clicking on a page and seeing scary Before images may do more to discourage than encourage potential patients – especially those who are fearful. I would prefer seeing beautiful After faces and smiles when I arrive on a Smile Gallery page.

How might they see the Before images to appreciate your work? How cool would it be to “roll over” the beautiful After image to reveal the Before image? I have seen this technique used in the past and it is SO much more impressive! Sadly, I searched my bookmarks and can’t find a single site that features after photos with a before rollover. Why not be the first? If you’ve fashioned your Gallery like this, please, please PLEASE send me a link. I would love to share it with your colleagues.

No-No #3: Anonymous Smiles

Who are these Before and After faces and what are their stories? Think about the impact it would make to include a brief story about their struggles, how they decided to make a change and how, with your help, it has made a difference in their life. This is where the magic can happen for people. Patients are more likely to connect with the quality of life benefits they are hoping to receive with your help. They will read something that makes them think “That’s me!”.  It can give them courage and motivate them to action.

With these three No-Nos in mind, you’ve got roughly a month before the season of self-improvement rolls around: January. Take inventory of your own Smile Gallery and consider if making some changes might better serve your practice and encourage more potential patients to take the next step.

And if you need help coordinating the effort or telling your patient’s stories, give me a call. I can help you make over your smile gallery for greater impact.

My Prediction for 2013

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Good news!  U. S. News and World Report has announced their list of the top jobs (those in greatest demand) for 2013 and topping the list at number one is dentist!  Following in the number ten position is dental hygienist! At the risk of angering some of you, I’m going to say it. No more whining! You can position your practice and seize the market. But you must decide to take a good hard look at your practice and make some improvements.  Look at these FIVE ELEMENTS and ask whether you are making the most of each opportunity:

1) Your Physical plant

Patients have very little in which to judge your expertise or competence and some will assess you by the appearance of your practice. From the exterior and signage to the decor, wall art and clutter, look at your practice with new eyes or ask a third party or professional to give you their honest opinion. And while you must like and be comfortable in your surroundings, the more important issue is who you are targeting and what will appeal to them.

2) How are patients welcomed?

The best investment you can make is to train the team members entrusted with answering the phone and welcoming new AND existing patients. NO AMOUNT OF ADVERTISING OR EXTERNAL MARKETING WILL BENEFIT YOU until your team members learn how to connect with people in the most effective way. The challenge is that you rarely know how your team members are engaging people because you are focused on doing dentistry. Enlist the help of a professional to both assess and train your team appropriately.

3) Work on building relationships

This may sound like a no-brainer but there is more to building a relationship than learning where your patients work, their children’s names or where they went on their last vacation. Everyone who works in the practice must be capable and willing to learn communication skills that will carry your relationships beyond the superficial. This requires learning why patients come to you, what they are asking and expecting of you, and how you can connect with them in ways that help them get what they want. The end result is more patients authorizing more dentistry sooner!

4) Fostering referrals

It stands to reason that if you manage expectations and give patients what they want, they will be happy and continue to come to your practice. Far too often, we don’t ask our best, most satisfied patients for referrals. Do you and your team know the art of asking for referrals in a genuine way? Do you have a referral program that encourages people to voluntarily share their experience in direct and viral ways? Enlist the help of a professional to AMP UP this highly overlooked goldmine.

5) Marketing

For you old-school guys and gals, WAKE UP!  It’s 2013 and if you aren’t getting your business out into the community, you will be left behind. For those of you who have marketing plans in place, now is the time to re-assess their effectiveness.  Keep these three essential elements in mind as you craft your campaigns:

Reach – who you are targeting

Frequency  –  how often you are sending messages out

Top of the Mind Awareness/Familiarity  –  being in the consumer’s mind when they are in the market or have a need

I encourage you to consider more non-traditional means of promoting your practice with a heavy emphasis on education and good-will marketing. Think creatively and out of the box. Don’t rely on a team member to try to implement your marketing when they “have time”. Instead, hire someone who can focus on it.

I predict that if you tackle all five of these goals this year, your practice will SOAR. I would love to help you with each of these areas to make 2013 your greatest year ever and be poised for success for years to come.

Using video to market your practice

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Lately, I have been asked about new and innovative ways to more successfully promote and market a dental practice. Aside from the traditional channels of advertising and the somewhat still-controversial idea of television commercials, I encourage you to consider the many other ways in which video can be a useful tool. Consider these convincing statistics:

Did you know that YouTube is the #2 search engine? And video results from YouTube will show up in Google search results, boosting your SEO rankings.

A Pew research study showed that Emails containing video received, on average, a 5.6 percent higher open rate, and a 96.38 percent higher click-through rate than non-video emails.

According to the BIA Kelsey Group, viewers engage more after watching a video, with clicks for more information increasing by 30-40% and phone inquiries by 16-20%.

A DoubleClick survey revealed web video based advertisements saw their brand awareness improve amongst its audience by 10% more than standard print or audio ad formats. DoubleClick also noted that audiences appeared to favor the businesses with web video content much more than those without.

Video can help your practice stay connected and relevant. Video can raise your credibility, send a message, attract, educate and inform. Consumers respond favorably to video, especially if it is executed well.  If they are “just looking”, a video gives them a sense of what to expect before they pick up the phone or walk into your practice. It is a safe way for your prospective patient to peak inside your door and get to know you and your team in a new dimension that goes beyond a traditional web site, print ads or photos.

How often do you implement this amazing tool in your practice?  If you are, bravo! Read on to discover some uses you may not have thought of and if you would like to learn how to improve the quality of your programs, contact me using the form below this blog. If you aren’t using video, think about the ways in which video can enhance your practice’s marketing efforts.

Consider these examples of videos you might create:

1) Dentist introduction to the practice
Personal introduction to viewers: The spokesperson style delivery is presented directly to the camera (viewer). Use this technique if you are comfortable with speaking in front of a group and you present well.  The camera can be more intimidating than an audience but the beauty is that if you make a mistake, you can do it again.

Interview style: This is an edited version of an interview with the dentist that gives a sense of your personality and style. This is a great alternative for those individuals who are uncomfortable doing a spokesperson-type delivery. With this style, you will need to edit the content. There are consumer video editing options available but if you don’t have the expertise, you would be better served by getting a professional to help you edit the piece.

Caution: If you still aren’t pleased with your performance, use the medium in other areas that shine. Do not use a video for video’s sake. It can do more harm than good.

2) Special subject videos
You may also expand outside a simple introduction to the practice and create an entire library of videos discussing a variety of subjects. Any one of your team members can present these segments. Start small and test the water first. For instance, one idea we recently discussed with an orthodontist was an instructional trouble-shooting video for parents and patients with broken wires or brackets.

3) Hygienist: How I help you stay healthy
If you have a hygienist who is personable and passionate about her work, chances are she will be comfortable doing a video. This is a great way to showcase the expertise of your hygienist and raise the value of her role in the practice.

4) Patient Liaison/Coordinator: What you can expect
This should be presented by the person likely to answer the phone and work with new patients.  You must have someone who is warm, engaging and comfortable with herself. They will likely have little trouble creating a video and may be a great alternative if the dentist lacks the on camera charisma to present well to new patients.

The most successful liaison/coordinator video is presented spokesperson style, directly to the camera/viewer.

5) Virtual tour of the practice
What a great way for prospective patients to visit your practice. This can be a simple walk through the practice with pans of each area. Add music and you’re done. They get to see your reception area, your clinical area, and the environment in which you work. If your practice is clean, uncluttered and attractive, this is a nice marketing tool. If your place is cluttered, cramped, dark, or needs the expertise of an interior decorator, skip this for now and focus on improving the look of your physical plant.

6) New patient discovery process
In so many cases, patients are disconnected and uninformed about their conditions and do not have an ownership of their problems. And for most people, listening, participating and retaining information is difficult when one is reclined, mouth open and a light shining in their eyes. A video can be a powerful tool to help patients become engaged in the process and take ownership of their conditions. With the use of an intra-oral camera and simple headset or wireless lav microphone, the dentist can record the discovery process during the patient’s first visit. Add a simple pre-recorded introduction along with the recorded oral findings, burn a DVD copy and the patient leaves the first visit with a personal account of the discovery process. How many dentists do you think provide this valuable service? How might your patients respond to this level of service?

7) Happy patient testimonials
There is nothing more valuable than hearing someone’s positive story and how thrilled he or she is with your practice. Conducted interview-style, patients can provide viewers with a unique and independent perspective. Keep on the lookout for patients that are outgoing, attractive and will come across believable and natural on camera.

Patients will be most excited about their experience just after the two of you have completed your work together. Make sure you have them sign a release allowing you to use their testimonials.  You may want to set aside a special time to conduct several interviews and combine it with an appreciation reception for a select group of patients.

CAUTION: You do not want to violate confidentiality so avoid using your patient’s full name when identifying them in your video.

8)Pre-treatment Interviews
We know Before and After photos are valuable but Before and After videos are photos on steroids. Pre- and post-treatment interviews can provide a complete picture of the patient’s journey. Viewers can relate more fully as they see and hear from a patient who is about to start treatment and can follow him through the process.

One caution: Conduct these interviews only after you have reached an agreement on treatment and financial arrangements. You do not want to manipulate the patient into going ahead with treatment by using the video as a commitment tool. Instead, get the patient’s permission after arrangements have been agreed upon and finalized, and plan the interview for the day treatment begins.

9) Document special events
Tooth Fairy Day, Free Dentistry Day, a visit to the local pre-school to teach children about brushing, and other special events should be documented and included in your marketing mix. They are powerful tools that can easily be uploaded to YouTube and linked to your Facebook page or distributed to media outlets to increase the public’s awareness of the contributions you make in your community.

Distribution avenues:
So how might you use the video content? There are two avenues: web-based and hard copy distribution.

Web based distribution:
Web site:
You can plan for and post your videos on various pages of your web site.

Social networks:
Post your videos on your Facebook fan page or blog or YouTube site and create buzz. Provide links for your collaborative web partners to post on their pages too.

Hard copy distribution:
Design a DVD, or mini DVD business card that features several of your videos in an interactive format. Viewers can pick and choose what to watch based on what is relevant to them. These marketing pieces can be distributed in various venues:

-Health fairs or other community events
-Offer as part of a welcome package to the area
-Provide to your referring doctors to distribute to their patients
-Leave at health clubs, spas, urgent care facilities, etc. for people to pick up

Video can be a valuable marketing tool. It can set you apart in the marketplace. Start small, experiment and implement slowly. You will never look back.

If you would like to start the process of implementing video in your practice,  request a copy of  my HOW TO production tips: The Dentist’s Guide to Video Production