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Comeback Strategies for Dentists: Surviving a Recession

Dentists, get ready.

There is about to be a massive pent-up demand for your services. But patients are going to have more concerns than ever about safety protocols, payment options, and scheduling conflicts.

Margaret McGuckin was the founding COO for ClearChoice Dental Implant Centers when the market crashed in 2008. The leadership team had to quickly pivot to help the fledgling DSO recover and prosper. Within four years, it had opened 31 multi-specialty locations, generated $131 million in revenue, and become the dental implant market leader.

In this video with Patient Prism CEO Amol Nirgudkar, Margaret shares her successful strategies to help dentists survive a recession.

You can also click here to print the guide: Comeback Strategies for Dentists.

Prepare Your Dental Team

Dentists and DSO leaders should forecast what they’ll need for staffing in the weeks ahead. In many cases, it may be a phased approach.

  • Call team members to ask them how they’re doing
  • Let them know what the plan is for reopening
  • Be honest about this being a fluid situation
  • Determine if you need to extend operating hours
  • Rehire team members and document appropriately
  • Cross-train team members / plan back-up staffing strategies
  • Review and implement enhanced safety protocols
  • Develop a list of questions you anticipate your patients may have and create effective phrasing to use in each case
  • Create checklists so each person knows exactly what needs to be accomplished in order to reopen and stay open
  • Set clear expectations for key performance indicators, such as increasing the show rate

Build Your Schedule

If you haven’t already been communicating with your patients, definitely start now. People will be calling, so make sure somebody is answering. Then have a dedicated team making patient reactivation calls.

Ensure everyone knows how new safety precautions such as social distancing may impact your schedule. That information will need to be clearly communicated to your patients.

Things will not be business as usual, for either you or your patients. Every phone call should start by asking, “How are you doing? How’s your family?”

This is definitely a time for empathy. When talking about scheduling an appointment, try saying, “We’ve been thinking about you. We know you’re in the middle of [dental treatment] and wanted to thank you for being so patient while we followed the state’s guidelines. We anticipate reopening on [date] and we want to make sure we get you in to see [doctor’s name] so we can get you back on track to a beautiful, healthy smile.”

Here are some more tips to build your schedule:

  • Establish if you are going to work extended hours
  • Review charts and prioritize your patient cases
  • Create blocks in your schedule for high-value cases and don’t release those blocks unless the doctor gives permission or you are less than two days away and the blocks have not yet been filled
  • Determine special offers for patients to incentivize starting treatment
  • Reduce no-shows by using effective phrasing such as, “Dr. Smith has 45 minutes on her schedule to meet with you and is so looking forward to seeing you again.”
  • Evaluate teledentistry options to build value and determine urgency
  • Consider accepting additional types of dental insurance
  • Consider accepting Medicaid patients during designated hours

Develop Financing Options

Millions of people saw their finances change during the past few weeks. Now’s the time to research additional financing options that can help your patients afford the dental care they need.

GreenSky, Proceed Finance, Lending Club, and CareCredit are all popular third-party financing services.

Many dental practices also offer discount dental plans like Careington and Launch Loyalty.

Do you offer a discount if people start treatment before the end of the month? That can be another way to help your patients receive the dental care they need. Just keep in mind that patients with insurance can’t receive discounts on their patient portion unless you’re also discounting the amount you’re collecting from the insurance provider.

Start Marketing Your Dental Practice

Let’s face it: a lot of people will more dental problems than ever. They’ve been grinding their teeth because of stress, skipping brushing and flossing, and putting off dental care because of the stay-at-home orders. This is a great time to advertise through traditional methods including pay-per-click advertising, Facebook advertising, and hometown newspapers and community publications.

There are many different types of marketing. If you are cash-strapped right now, start with ideas that don’t cost a lot of money. Facebook, Yelp, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, YouTube and email are all easy ways to connect with people.

Here are some ideas:

  • Social media posts of the dentist announcing when you expect to reopen
  • Social media posts announcing special offers or extended hours
  • Social media posts showcasing your team
  • Reconnect with your referral sources
  • Email your patient base
  • Update your website and Google Map Listing
  • Create messaging that will resonate such as “Is your smile helping or hurting your chance for a new job?”
  • Ask your happy patients to tape a quick video testimonial highlighting how you helped them smile, made them feel safe, or worked with them to make their care affordable.

Remove Roadblocks and Measure Results

When the 2008 recession hit, the direct-to-consumer ClearChoice Dental Implant Centers model was just getting started. In order to survive the economic downturn, the team had to be creative and innovative.

The number one goal was to get revenue in the door.

The number one question was, “What do we need to do this week to be successful?” The team would set a specific goal they wanted to reach, such as increase case acceptance by 5%.

“It was that rapid iteration model that allowed us to gain rapid feedback from the offices, identify roadblocks, and figure out how to overcome them,” said Margaret McGuckin.

The ClearChoice executive team assigned team members to review every part of the patient experience, from listening to phone calls to identify concerns that kept people from booking, to observing treatment presentations to determine the best verbiage for increasing case acceptance. They even had team members who acted as secret shoppers.

Their leadership team visited practices, talking to the people on the ground and boosting morale.

Then a core group of four executives met every Friday to review the data from the week.

“It was incumbent on each one of us in that meeting to know the answer about whether there was positive movement and what drove the change,” said McGuckin.

If the change was positive, then it was added to the practice playbook so every team member could be trained on the effective methodology.

If the change did not achieve the desired results, then the team would use feedback from the field to determine what to try next.

The formula for the Friday weekly rapid iteration meeting was:

  • Set a specific goal that could be measured (ex: increase case acceptance by 5%)
  • Determine what you wanted the team to do to achieve that
  • Communicate that to the team so it could be implemented on Monday
  • Review data daily and overlay feedback from the staff
  • Measure the results and determine if they achieved the goal
  • Identify any trends that may be influenced by geography or demographics
  • Communicate what you want the team to do the same or differently the next week
  • Once achieved, set a new goal (ex: reduce no-shows by 5%)

ClearChoice included the successful strategies in its employee handbook so every team member could receive the same training and achieve predictable outcomes.

“This was hard work,” said Margaret McGuckin. “We had to be creative. We had to be innovative. We had to really listen to what our patients were telling us and figure out how to help them feel comfortable with moving forward with treatment. Having a process in place that everyone understood and everyone knew their role in implementing made all the difference in our success.”

Additional Resources

i3 Ignite created several guides to help dentists and DSO leaders through this difficult time. Email Margaret McGuckin at Margaret@i3ignite.com to receive a copy of:

  • Top 3 Tips: Cutting Costs Without Impacting Effectiveness
  • Top 4 Tips: Coming Out of a Down Market
  • Top 10 Tips: Capturing Pent-Up Demand

For more interviews with experts, training resources, and guides, visit Academy.PatientPrism.com.

There will be a huge need for dentistry once people can resume normal activities. More people than ever will have questions about safety, affordable treatment options, and what’s covered by their insurance plans post-COVID. Visit PatientPrism.com/Overview to find out how we can help your team convert more callers into booked appointments.

About this Industry Leader:

Margaret McGuckin - Profile Pic

Margaret McGuckin

Strategist & DSO Consultant, i3 Ignite

Margaret McGuckin and her business partner, Kathy Lynn-Cullotta, are the co-founders of i3 Ignite. They've worked as an advisory team for the past four years across multiple industries. i3 Ignite advises DSOs and large group practices as they try to stay on the path of profitable growth while navigating the complexity of executing a multi-location, multi-business model organization.

As the founding COO of ClearChoice Dental Implant Centers, a consumer-based DSO, Margaret steered the organization from 1 to 31 locations in 14 states in a 4-year period, generating over $130 million annually. She built their platform and was responsible for managing consistently and successfully to the Playbook, ensuring culture and performance for both de novo and acquired practices. As a C-Suite executive, Margaret led teams that rapidly developed and scaled up innovative businesses in several industries including local media and health care.

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