Inside Dentistry
February 2010
Volume 6, Issue 2

Take Advantage of the Economic Turnaround

Roger P. Levin, DDS

The practices that take the time now to evaluate and update their management systems will be the in the best position for the recovery.

The last 18 to 24 months have been one of the most challenging periods in several generations. Dental practices nationwide are experiencing the effects of a sluggish economy. According to the ADA,1 44.6% of dentists surveyed in the second quarter of 2009 said gross billings had decreased from the previous quarter. In addition, a recent survey conducted by Levin Group found that average doctor compensation had decreased by 7.8% from 2008 to 2009.

Fortunately, many financial experts are predicting that the economy will show signs of recovery this year. Practices that evaluate and update their systems will be in the best position to take advantage of positive economic growth. However, in spite of improving economic conditions, dentists should have realistic expectations about the predicted turnaround. This will probably not be a 1-year rebound, but a multi-year recovery. We have entered a new economy, one that will challenge dentists and their assumptions about the business of dentistry for years to come.

Going forward into this new year (and new decade), dentists must realize that the patient–practice relationship has entered a new era, and they must adjust accordingly.

Dentists who embrace change and seize on opportunities will be the ones to experience the greatest success during the economic recovery. However, practice improvement requires a sustained commitment to change. Unfortunately, that kind of focus and effort can be challenging for many. Commit to change this year and turn those goals into achievement by following the advice that follows.

Growing the Practice in the New Economy

Practice growth depends on acquiring new patients and retaining current patients. What made this recession so challenging was that many practices suffered steep drops in both categories, as current patients cancelled hygiene appointments or declined treatment and potential patients never materialized. Some dental practices have dropped by as much as 30% and are facing an uncertain future.

Here are six specific “economic turnaround” strategies that can lead to both immediate and long-term growth:

1. First impressions make all the difference. Will patients be amazed when they walk into the office for the first time? Or will they consider it “just another dental practice”? Practices need to exceed expectations during every step of the New Patient Experience, from check-in to staff interactions to the dentist’s demeanor to scheduling the next appointment. When offices provide a great experience for new patients, they are more likely to become long-term patients.

2. Reinvigorate the patient referral program. People love feeling appreciated. Levin Group recommends using a four-part system for any patient who refers to the office. This patient-friendly approach includes a thank-you note, a thank-you phone call, a gift certificate (for coffee, a movie, or other low-cost activity), and a notation in the patient record to thank the patient verbally on his or her next visit. This system can have a dramatic impact on referrals.

3. People need to be reminded. Call every patient who has not had an appointment in 6 months. Many patients have been postponing dental care due to economic hardship. As the economy improves, these patients will often be ready to resume regular dental care. A reminder phone call will help to re-engage them.

4. Make sure all patients leave with an appointment. Levin Group recommends having 98% of hygiene patients scheduled for their next appointment. If a practice is only at 90%, that unscheduled 8% can mean the difference between growth and decline. Scripting and training can help front desk personnel move more patients into the hygiene schedule.

5. Look beyond single-tooth dentistry. Most patients are potential candidates for a variety of traditional and cosmetic procedures, yet many practices take a short-sighted view and focus exclusively on the patient’s current needs and treatment. While practices should address a patient’s immediate concerns, there also should be a focus on lifelong dentistry.

6. Give patients choices. By building value for treatment and presenting a variety of financial options, practices can change patient perceptions of affordability. To maximize case acceptance opportunities, practices should present patients with these financial options: 5% courtesy to patients who pay in full before the first appointment begins; credit cards; half upfront and half before the treatment is completed; outside financing with no-interest and flexible payment options makes treatment affordable for patients. The more financial options practices give patients, the greater the opportunity to increase case acceptance, especially for cosmetic and elective services.


The new year will present many opportunities for doctors to grow their practices. Greater success will be there for the dentists who are prepared for it.


1. Quarterly Economic Confidence Survey: Second Quarter 2009. July 21, 2009. Based on Responses to a Survey Conducted Between July 6, 2009 and July 15, 2009. American Dental Association.

The beginning of a new year is an ideal time to take measure of your practice’s current situation and potential. Inside Dentistry readers are entitled to receive a 50% courtesy on a Levin Group Total Success Practice Potential Analysis™, an in-office analysis and report of your unique situation conducted by a Levin Group Senior Practice Analyst. To schedule the next available appointment, call 888-973-0000 and mention “Inside Dentistry” or email customerservice@levingroup.com with “Inside Dentistry” in the subject line. For more information on Levin Group programs and seminars, go to: https://www.levingroupgp.com.

About the Author

Roger P. Levin, DDS
Dr. Levin is the CEO of Levin Group.

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