When a patient reaches out to our dental or orthodontic practice, it’s our job to take them on an effortless and memorable journey – and you should be doing the same for your patients, too!
This journey begins the moment they start wondering if they might have a dental issue, and ends the first time they see their new smile shining back at them in the surgery mirror. In between, there can be all sorts of twists, turns, and forks in the road, where your patient might end up wandering off into the wilderness, or even deciding to turn around and head home.
By mapping out every stage of your patient journey – from first contact to post-treatment and beyond – you can pinpoint these key turning points, the moments that make the difference between a lead turning into a paying patient or vanishing into the shadows. This will show you where you need to focus to deliver the best possible patient experience while maximising revenue for your practice.
In this article, I want to talk about what the ideal patient journey looks like for a modern, successful orthodontic practice, based on what we’ve learned over the past few years at East Midlands Orthodontics.
We’re an independent family business, not part of a big corporate chain, so these insights should be applicable to practices of all shapes and sizes.
What’s the secret to a smooth patient journey?
The secret to a smooth journey means getting off to a good start, and for us, this means nailing our marketing strategy. Your marketing shapes the first impression people will form of your practice, and determines what kind of patient will be motivated to reach out to you. It doesn’t matter how great your clinical offering is – if you haven’t got leads flowing into your business, or a confident and clear marketing message, there’ll be nobody there to appreciate it.
Let’s be clear – for the majority of practice owners and dental practitioners, writing copy and placing ads is not what gets you out of bed in the morning.
Many prefer to outsource this kind of work to dental marketing firms, and that’s fine – there’s nothing wrong with paying for outside expertise. But how can you be sure you’re getting value for money if you don’t have at least some insight into your own marketing processes?
For the past two years at East Midlands Orthodontics, we’ve been using digital ads. There’s a perception in the dental profession that using online ads is like throwing mud at a wall to see what sticks, but I couldn’t disagree more. When you get your copy right and the ads are properly targeted, it’s the quickest way to get the right patients through your door – far better than SEO, leaflet drops, posters, classifieds or any of the alternatives (trust me – we’ve tried them all!).
(Keep an eye out for future blogs where we will be discussing how to use paid ads in your practice!)
Building Trusting Relationships
It’s an unfortunate fact that people often come to dentistry and orthodontics with negative feelings. This could be embarrassment relating to their dental issue, or a fear of drills, needles and all the other terrifying torture implements they imagine their dentist will soon be unleashing on them. Patients are also understandably wary of the costs of treatment, and as dental professionals its our job to do everything we can to soothe these anxieties.
This is why building trusting relationships between your staff and your patients is so crucial. To feel comfortable in your hands, your patients not only need to believe you’ve got the expertise to handle their treatment properly, but they also need to feel that you care about their comfort and wellbeing.
This means not just having staff with the ability to recognise patients’ needs and responding to them with sensitivity and empathy, but also giving those staff tools which will support them in addressing patient concerns.
At East Midlands Orthodontics, we use Zoom® and photo up-loaders to facilitate remote consultations, so that patients can discover if they are suitable for a procedure and get an estimated price without having to visit the practice or pay money upfront.
For patients who want a face-to-face meeting, we offer a free Smile Assessment, where we scan a digital impression of their teeth to show them how their smile will look post-treatment. If one of our orthodontists is on hand, they can drop in for a couple of minutes to have a look at the scan and explain to the patient how they’ll go about making it a reality – often, the trained eye of the professional can find ways to improve on the simulation.
Before they’ve spent a single penny in the practice, our clients have already received a ton of value. They know what their problem is, what the solution looks like and they’ve seen that we have the tools to tackle it. It might seem risky for us to give so much away, but this approach helps build trust and buy-in from the patient from an early stage. If this means we have to forgo a bit of cash up front, it’s well worth it to guarantee a better return down the line.
An orthodontic procedure is a big investment for any patient, and as practitioners it’s on us to figure out how we can organise our payment structures to make them as accessible as possible, whilst also keeping our own finances shipshape.
As we all know, after agreeing a treatment plan a patient must have a Dental Health Assessment with the orthodontist before proceeding. At East Midlands Orthodontics, we’ve reduced the cost of this clinical exam by 50 per cent removing another of those early barriers which can prevent leads from converting into patients.
These upfront fees can always be recouped by pricing them into the final cost of the treatment plan – you still make the same money, just without front loading costs onto the patient. Again, this might mean you have less cash coming in up front, but this can be balanced by finding a good patient finance provider.
This was a daunting area at first, but after some trial and error we were able to find a simple, transparent financing service that works for our staff and patients alike. For a small transaction fee, we get to collect the full price of our services at the point of sale, smoothing out our cash flow and relieving us of the trouble of chasing patients for late or unpaid fees.
We all have routines that we rely on to run our practice, habits that have served us well over the years. However, in today’s world nothing stands still for long, and if you spend too much time stuck in your old ways, you’ll end up costing yourself money while failing to provide the best possible experience for your patients. Making time to regularly reassess your ideal patient journey is a great way to keep ahead of the game.
Over the past couple of years, our practice has really reaped the benefits of embracing cutting-edge innovations, from email automations to digital smile scans to patient finance.
I’ve given you a quick taste of how we make these tools work for us, but for deeper insights into how you could deploy them in your own practice, make sure to subscribe to our mailing list for the latest tips and tools for growing your practice.