Like it or not, patients assess you based on your practice website. "It might not be the best way to judge a practice, but often it's the first way–or the only way," says Cooper.
Cooper urges her clients to put their best face forward through their practice website, because having an outdated site is just as bad for business as having threadbare carpet in the waiting room or 40-year-old operatories.
Once you build a beautiful, informative website, the next step is making sure patients see it. To keep up with current algorithms of search engine optimization, a website has a shelf life of about 36 months, Cooper advises. After 3 years, consider a refresh.
This very technical side of online marketing is still a mystery to most dental professionals. "Everyone wants to be on the first page of Google," says Bill Busch, DMD, MAGD, a practitioner in Kansas City, Missouri. "Web optimization is an untapped resource. I think that's the Wild Wild West that we don't have time to understand."
Social Media and Online Reviews
Consumer behavior is increasingly dependent upon the Internet when it comes to making buying decisions, and patients are no exception.
"More and more people come to my office saying they found my practice through an online review," says Busch. "I ask patients for referrals, but time and time again, people rely on the Internet for their information. They say, ‘First, I started on the insurance directory and then I looked at all your Google reviews. Then I see you're active in the community doing free dental work, and that's why I'm here.' They do their homework."
In Busch's practice, someone else is assigned to be the social media director and is compensated for the time it takes. "Even if you're really not involved, you need to at least be aware of what people are saying with reviews and how you are addressing the public with social media," he advises.
Once that new patient makes contact via social media or the web, Cooper stresses, the customer service he or she receives must be excellent. "People who found you from Yelp or from search engine optimization are just looking for an excuse to go back into procrastination mode," she explains. "You put them on hold, you tell them you'll call them back, you don't have an appointment available for 4 weeks, and you've lost them."
Opportunity #2: Technology
An investment in technology can make a huge positive impact on your profits and production, as long as you have a strong plan, says Andrew Koenigsberg, DDS, of Gallery57 Dental in Manhattan. His practice used the earliest version of a CAD/CAM camera 10 years ago and has evolved into a state-of-the-art facility with its own full-service laboratory. "However, if technology doesn't fit into your game plan or workflow, it is never going to be successful. Buying the machine is not enough," he says.
Caution is wise when it comes to technology, but if it's the right move for your practice, don't let the learning curve hold you back, says Gerald Lande, DDS, of Carmel, Indiana. "Honestly, most technology is usually easier than what you're already doing. The learning curve for most of it is not that hard. When you go from film to digital x-rays, for example, you hit the button like you always do. But now you don't have to develop it, it shows up on the screen. So in that respect, it's a no-brainer."
Depending on your practice's needs, incorporating technology doesn't always mean a purchase of new equipment–in some cases the technology already exists in the office, making the investment more about time than money.
Practice Management Software
Practice management software is an example of a pervading technology that is certainly underutilized in some practices. Barker notes that many offices are using only 15% to 20% of their software capabilities, just out of habit. Addressing that gap can help improve the practice's efficiency and productivity rapidly.
Practice management software had a huge impact on Busch's bottom line. "I think one role technology has in dentistry is to keep our chairs full. We know how to do the dentistry, but the biggest part is making sure we have enough dental work to do. One of the easiest ways to leverage that and keep your chairs full would be the patient engagement platforms that are available."
For example, one day his system, Dentrix, helped immensely when his schedule completely fell apart due to cancellations. "By using the patient engagement platform," Busch says, "we were able to reach out to almost 2,000 of our patients, and we had those spots filled within 10 or 15 minutes."
If a website or social media are strategies for increasing the number of patients, practice management systems are about doing more with your existing patient base. In addition to reminding patients about scheduled appointments, this software can also help advertise existing services about which patients might not be aware.
"I think doctors overlook the power of the database and the data mining that they have at their fingertips," he says. "Most of these patient engagement platforms are $200 a month but they pay for themselves 20 or 30 times over a year. Leverage the real-time patient contact and engagement with your office to fill holes, offer things that patients weren't aware of, or promote things you're really good at–fill your chairs."
Another benefit of using your practice management software to the fullest is a more streamlined workflow. "When you automate routine processes, you make time for patient care," Singerman says. "You can also learn to manage workflow to maximize efficiency. There really are some ways of doing things better–method does matter."
When you use your software correctly, he explains, it helps you make productive processes automatic, gives you data about your performance, and provides you with the tools to improve your productivity. The caveat is that you have to set it up and consistently use it the right way. "Software can only give you good data out if you put good data in," Singerman concludes.
"I don't think anybody could argue that CAD/CAM has and will continue to revolutionize clinical dentistry," says Koenigsberg, who got a CEREC system about 13 years ago. He describes CAD/CAM as the first truly game-changing technology he experienced.
Busch agrees that it can greatly improve a practice's income. "CAD/CAM dentistry is just a no-brainer," he says. "You can increase your income 20% to 30% more a year just by doing CAD/CAM single-visit dentistry." He says that before he adopted CAD/CAM, he lost money when he did a crown for $800 in two patient visits. "We recover probably 16 clinical hours every month that I would have been seating crowns where they had to come back in two visits," he says.
To detractors who complain about quality, Busch counters that today's systems are better and much easier to use. "The accuracy is there, and it's dependable, and once you get past 13 or 14 restorations a month, it really doesn't cost anything. Because instead of paying the lab $2,000 for those 14 restorations, you're paying your lease bill. Instead of paying $200 a crown, you're paying $20."
Lande was an early critic of CAD/CAM, but improvements in the technology turned him into a believer. "Once it became 3D, where you could do the fit and the occlusion, both sides of the crown, that made it more appealing. And when you looked at the financials behind it, it just seemed to make sense. When the economy tanked in 2007 and 2008, it really helped financially to have it already."
Once the system is paid for, the cash flow benefits are even better, Lande says. "Plus, there's all the other benefits–the control that you have, the convenience of not having temporaries." Another key advantage is patient experience and comfort, which can ultimately boost your referrals and new patient base.