Convince your patients to accept your associate


In my first article this week I suggested that it’s often easier for a practice owner to grow a list of patients and then transfer some of the list to an incoming associate than to follow the accepted pathway of hiring an associate in the hope that they grow their own list of patients.

The pinch point, of course, is how to get the patients to see a new dentist once they have established a relationship with the principal.

Strategically, this works best if the practice is set up along the lines of: the principal sees the new patients and carries out the initial course (or courses of treatment), usually with the help of a hygienist/therapist and possibly in-house or referred specialist providers such as implants, endo etc.

Once the patient is “dentally fit” they are handed over to an associate-led maintenance team or continuing-care team (associate dentist, hygienist etc) in order to provide continuing care for the foreseeable future, often with the added benefits of a plan such as Denplan. If the patient is introduced to this process during their first visit, they accept that they will meet several dentists along their journey within the practice and, once they have completed their initial treatment, they will be placed in the safe hands of the continuing care team.

If, as in most practices, the patients have an established relationship with the principal or the dentist they are being moved from, then you better have a good story to tell as to why this is being actioned, or some of the patients will kick off.

Stories that work:

  • we are changing the way we do things so that we can offer a better service to all our patients. Our continuing care team is now looking after all of our plan patients, so that our new patient team can treat our new patients…
  • our principal dentist (your dentist), after several years of post graduate training, is focusing on specialist work (endo, advanced restorative etc).
  • the principal’s patient list is so full that he/she is unable to spend enough time with his/her patients, particularly as he/she is now focusing on advanced restorative work/perio/implants etc etc.

In my experience, somewhere between 60 and 75 per cent of patients are willing to move to the new dentist if handled well by the principal and their support team. It helps enormously if the associate you hire to receive these loyal patients is: charming, charismatic, experienced, skilful and similar in some ways (age, life stage etc) as the patients they will be treating. The best option (one rarely considered by the principal) is to hire an associate who is better than the principal in some or many ways and then guess what? The patients really don’t mind moving!!!

You will also need some or all of these tactics to speed up and ease the handover of patients:

  • create a story about why patients should see the new associate. What they are great at, how they complement the other dentists on the team, how lucky we are to have them join us, their USP etc etc. Have this story in sight, on the wall in reception with a photo of them looking gorgeous, and a leaflet to hand out. Have the whole team rehearsed in introducing the new associate.
  • decide on how many patients you want to move to the new associate; set a daily target that everyone is working towards.
  • once the target list size has been achieved, remember that with a likely 10 per cent attrition rate, the new associate will need an additional quota of new patients every month.
  • have everyone (particularly the principal) role play the recommendation to patients as to why they should move to the new associate.
  • have the new associate highly visible in the practice and introduce them to all the patients that are coming and going in glowing terms; don’t let them hide in their surgery.
  • have a policy of booking lapsed patients into the new associate’s book.
  • make the first appointment with the new associate twice as long as it needs to be so that the associate has time to get to know the patient and start building a long-term relationship.

To be frank, the biggest factor in making this strategy work is to hire the right associate dentist – someone the patients will quickly warm to. The reason these tactics most often fail is that the new associate doesn’t have enough of the right interpersonal skills to quickly create new and sustainable relationships with their patients. This ability is at least as important as their clinical skills, and sometimes it’s very hard to find in the current crop of applicants.

If you would like some help with growing your practice call me for a chat or email me.

m. 07770 430576


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