This has been an interesting and different year, to say the least, and it’s been difficult for me to hear the outcry of frustration and fear from my colleagues. While some dentists have bounced back from the COVID-19 shutdown, many are looking at closing or selling their practices. Our office had its share of frustrations from the shutdown as well, but, thankfully, we have been able to weather the storm. We are even bringing in another dentist to help.
I want to share the No. 1 tactic that has kept us alive and thriving this year. It’s a tactic borrowed from prior experience, and it also can help new offices gain traction and grow quickly. That tactic is treating more emergencies.
I have talked about this topic for years. We love emergency patients, but I frequently hear about the concerns other offices have with them. A fair number of offices dismiss emergency patients if they don’t schedule comprehensive exams and treatment. Specific problems cited range from scheduling issues, to timing, to efficiency, to not hitting goals, as well as a general feeling that they might not be “good” patients.
Let’s talk about why we love emergency patients in my office and how embracing them is an effective strategy for practice growth, now more than ever.
Most of us chose to work in dentistry to help people. There is nothing more gratifying than helping someone alleviate a physically painful situation.
Emergency appointments usually require a minimal amount of time. These patients will happily wait if they know you’re “fitting them in.” Being able to get them in today means more to them than having to wait 30 minutes when they arrive. We schedule emergency patients for 1 hour on an overflow column, so it does not detract from our normal schedule.
Emergency patients are more likely to have their wallet open saying “take this, and fix me now, please.” Most emergency treatment is on the high dollar, low overhead spectrum. This includes extractions, root canals and crowns. And treatment doesn’t require your higher overhead hygienist.
Emergency patients are often very loyal. This may sound odd because many of these patients only come in once every two to three years. However, if you ask them who “their dentist” is, you most often will get an extraordinarily strong “DR. X!” When you help patients in their time of need, it creates a wealth of loyalty. They may only see you every few years, but they will ONLY see YOU.
This year alone, dozens of new patients have returned for additional treatment because I saw them when their “dentist for years” could or would not get them in for an urgent situation. Our marketing helps attract these patients. Often, dentists are less likely to advertise for emergency care, which means marketing costs are lower and more effective for those who do.
In times of a recession, patients often turn down high-end treatment and put off preventative care. This leads to a higher volume of emergency needs, which can last for months or years after a recession (or shutdown). We are already seeing far more SRP, extract/graft, and root canal treatments than ever. This is likely to continue.
The one consistent philosophy we’ve had in our office since we built the practice, and which we highlight on almost all our marketing pieces, is this:
“Call by noon, be seen today.”
We may or may not be able to actually complete a treatment same day (about 75% of the time we do), but we can always do something small and quick to help the patient feel better in less than 20 minutes (antibiotics, extraction, remove a tooth nerve, or adjust a sharp edge).
The main concern offices talk about, the elephant in the room, is the reality that emergency patients often do not have a lot of money set aside for dentistry. Therefore, we always provide multiple options for financial arrangements.
Now, we are also smart about this; we do not extend non-guaranteed money to new patients. But there are plenty of ways patients can finance their treatment and ensure the office gets paid regardless, including third-party up-front financing like CareCredit, or over time guaranteed financing such as Varidi. You could even have patients begin layaway payments and schedule their dental work once they have enough saved.
Worst case scenario is you find a few patients who literally have zero funds, and you agree to complete a few charity extractions. The personal and team benefits from helping patients during a time of critical need can be highly rewarding and heart-warming. For me, this is the best reminder of why I got into dentistry in the first place!
If you are feeling any pinch from 2020 and would like to both help your community and grow your practice, I highly suggest you start implementing ways to capture and treat more patients in urgent need of dentistry.