A successful observation program is an inexpensive and effective method to grow future production. However, many orthodontic offices don’t have one. Or, if they do, it’s not fully supported by the practice. There’s a general misperception that observation programs aren’t really worth it. Many orthodontists believe the time spent seeing potential patients would be better spent on actual patients.

Yet orthodontic practices always need new patients, so why not build a “farm system” of likely candidates through a well-run observation program? In today’s hyper-competitive dental marketplace, it could mean the difference between an okay year and a great year!

Here are three mistakes that orthodontic practices make with observation programs:

1. Under-Utilized

It’s one of those things that many practices halfheartedly do. Maybe at one time the office was gung-ho about the observation program, but the employee who ran it is no longer with the practice. So while the observation program officially exists, it’s in limbo—not quite alive, not yet dead. If parents ask about it, the front desk will hand them a brochure. But everyone on the team has more important things to do than be bothered with some program that’s not a priority for the practice.

2. Under-Developed

Some practices are all in, making it fun for observation patients and parents, by including incentives for maintaining appointments, turning in good hygiene report cards, staying cavity-free, etc. Yes, while it does take some effort to create a robust observation program, look at the payoff—a steady stream of new patients who are ready to begin treatment once they graduate from your observation program.

Unfortunately, many practice observation programs fall flat. Remember, while parents are the decision-makers, their children can often tip the scales. If you can get kids excited about being a member through prizes and other benefits, you’re making it easier for their parents to move forward with treatment, when the time is appropriate and if it’s warranted.

3. Under-Promoted

If you have an observation program, you have to make parents of current patients and your referring doctors aware of it… because they are your two main sources for observation patients. Put up posters around the office promoting the observation program. Include information in the new patient welcome packet. Mention it in your communications with referring practices. Highlight the program on your practice website and Facebook page.

The more members you have in your observation program, the greater the impact on your future revenue. If average orthodontic treatment costs $5,000, an observation program with 100 members represents approximately $500,000 in projected production. Of course, not every member will become a patient, but the vast majority will.

Understand the Potential

An observation program is a vital asset, especially in a time of widespread ortho shopping. If you have one, make sure parents and children find it valuable. Look for ways to improve it and promote it. If you don’t have an observation program, it’s time to get one! OP

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