Back in the day, every newspaper had an advice column. In fact, even today, the syndicated “Dear Abby” advice column reaches an estimated 110 million readers. But do all the lovelorn letter writers heed Abby’s wise counsel? Probably not.

Orthodontists are no different. Some of them pay consultants for advice on how to reach patients, how to retain patients, and how to treat patients—but then they don’t listen.

So what’s the No. 1 piece of advice that orthodontists should follow, but don’t? According to author and speaker Landy Chase, it involves making the most of the first visit.

“Doctors must recognize that they have only one opportunity—the initial consultation­—to persuade a visiting family to proceed with treatment, and they must take steps to improve and upgrade that process,” says Chase. “There is too much competition, and patients today have too many options, to continue to do things as they have been done in the past. Most practices need a lot of help in this area, and most continue to ignore this fact and pay the consequences by losing cases.”

With his experience as a business consultant in more than 50 different industries outside of orthodontic consulting, Chase points out that orthodontics is different from many other professions because a practice is constantly gaining—and losing—its clients (patients).

“The orthodontic profession is the only business I have ever worked with that turns over 100% of its customers every 24 months,” he says. “For that reason alone, I have never seen a business that needs to improve its presentation skills more than orthodontics.”

Chase, who specializes in helping orthodontists maximize new-patient starts through skills training for their front-office staff, says the key to a practice’s success is marketing. He defines marketing as those activities that generate foot traffic into the practice.

“Doctors who rely on dental referrals exclusively, for their new patients, are betting their future on the continued benevolence of other professionals who may not be there for them in the future,” he states. “Learning how to generate your own ‘leads’ as a supplement to dental referrals is a smart business move that will help insulate the practice from the whims of the dental community.”

Chase also urges practices to deviate from the common policy of offering different financing terms to different families, based on the applicant’s credit score.

“Due to the level of competition, practices cannot dictate payment terms,” Chase says. “Requiring a minimum down payment of $1,000 or more, from a family, virtually guarantees that the family will leave and go to a competing practice that offers easier financing terms.”

For those who are concerned about bad debts, Chase cites statistics that show that 95% of families pay their treatment balances in full.

So why don’t doctors listen to Chase’s advice? He believes it may be because orthodontic residency programs don’t cover the sales and marketing concepts that he recommends.

“What I teach is not available in academia and is equally unknown to consultants who lack my background,” he explains. “So much of what I bring to the table is new thinking, and I think that a lot of doctors are just beginning to realize how critical it is to make effective adjustments in this area of the practice.”

To make those adjustments, Chase recommends reading his books on the subject. He also offers training that includes on-site coaching and role-playing, as well as recording actual presentations for critiquing purposes. Other consultants recommend community support and outreach: advertising in school newsletters, sponsoring sports activities, attending community events, etc.

Sure, learning new sales and marketing skills takes time and money, but Chase warns that not taking advice from consultants like him can have dire consequences for a practice.

“If you don’t have a steady stream of new visitors to your practice, and you don’t convert most of them to new patients,” he says, “you will not grow—and you will not be successful at the level that you deserve.”

And that’s the kind of advice you can take to the bank. OP

Kirsten Lambert is a freelance writer for Orthodontic Products. She can be reached at [email protected].