PATIENT RETENTION DURING TRANSITIONS- How to Introduce the New Associate
Whether introducing a new dentist (also referred to as “Dr. New” in this discussion) as the “new associate”, “new partner”, or “new owner”, retaining the patients during the transition is the most important goal. For the practice owner (also referred to as “Dr. Owner”), the “how” to introduce Dr. New and accomplish maximum retention is of equal importance. By following a few simple recommendations, maximum retention is assured.
Concerns of the Practice Owner All practice owners, while introducing a new dentist, have several basic concerns. First is whether the new dentist has the required clinical skills to match or exceed those skills offered by owner. Whether the new dentist is being considered strictly as an associate, as a future partner, or as the new owner, most “current owner” dentists believe they are the best dentist in the community (and world) and therefore tend to set unrealistic expectations for the new dentist. They have set these expectations based first on their own egos and secondly, and more importantly, based on their genuine concern for their patient’s future “dental” well being. Their first concern is the foundation for two more concerns. They are fearful that if the new dentist does not have adequate clinical skills but is hired, the dentist owner faces an abundance of re-makes and the costs in dollars and time involved to repair the patient’s dentistry. Their third, and more significant concern, is the ultimate loss of the patient as a result of the problems incurred by the patient at the hands of the new dentist. If the above concerns are addressed and the decision is made that you are the right “new dentist” for their practice, the remaining concern is how to introduce you while preventing the loss of patients simply because the patients have been referred to the “new dentist” and patients are uncomfortable seeing anyone other than the owner. The best “introduction” protocols are different depending on whether the new dentist will be an associate first or whether the new dentist will immediately become the owner and the senior dentist will retire.
When the intended transition is a “role reversal”, i.e., Dr. New is hired initially as an associate but the intended outcome is that Dr. New will eventually purchase the practice and Dr. Owner will now become the associate, the introductory steps are the same as if this is going to be a partnership. The intention is to introduce as many patients as possible to Dr. New. However, because Dr. Owner will not be leaving the practice, “all” patients do not need to be introduced before the sale is consummated. If, however, it is the intention of Dr. Owner to retire after the ownership change, then all patients must be introduced to Dr. New through the hygiene program prior to the sale and retirement.
Retention After a Total Sale Patient retention after a total practice sale wherein Dr. New has never met any of the patients must follow a different procedure. We see an average 90-95% retention rate even in the case of a new dentist buying a practice, never meeting any patients before the sale, and the senior doctor immediately retiring. The reason is actually fairly simple. There is only one thing scarier to a patient than changing dentists. That is changing dentists and going to a new unknown location to find that dentist. People like familiarity when dealing with new people (or in this case, a new dentist). If the patient has to change dentists anyway, most patients will give the new dentist at least one try. All that is required is the endorsement of the selling dentist. This simple endorsement will transfer the goodwill and subsequently the patients to Dr. New. One of the questions we are continually asked is, “Must the retiring dentist stay around to introduce the new dentist?” There are two opinions regarding this. The first is yes, for up to six months, it is “helpful” to the new dentist to be personally introduced to the new dentist. The intended purpose of this “personal introduction” is of course patient retention. After more than twenty years of observing this practice in action, our experience has been that this actually has the opposite effect. Many patients are actually lost because they are upset that Dr. Owner is there but will not see them. Or, the time needed for the introduction causes Dr. New to run behind schedule, a very bad “marketing” first impression. 80 -90% of new patients come from existing patients in most practices, and the existing patients, feeling Dr. New is not capably of staying on schedule, do not refer. The existing patients quickly develop one of several opinions: Dr. New already is too busy and cannot stay on schedule, or Dr. New is too inexperienced to stay on schedule, or if a referral is made, the referral will have their time wasted waiting for Dr. New. The outcome in all instances is the same. “No” referrals from the best referral source, the existing patient base. Even worse than just introducing patients to Dr. New, if Dr. Owner, as part of the introduction period, actually treats patients in addition to making the introduction, Dr. New does not have enough treatment to render. Dr. New will experience significant financial difficulty as the result of losing the typical 35% revenue that the previous Dr. Owner is now paid as an associate. The rule of thumb we use in total practice sales is that if Dr. Owner is going to leave the practice in less than a year after the sale, we do not want or need Dr. Owner for a single day.