The Rise and Fall of the Inconvenient Dentist

When is the last time you waited more than two minutes to get money?

When is the last time you waited more than two minutes to get money?

I was waiting in line for my ATM the other day, and the person in front of me was giving all the body language and sighs of someone who was running out of patience.  A minute or so later he walked away, his transaction complete.  I decided to time my own transaction. I was withdrawing cash, and in 38 seconds I had my money and was on my way.  Sadly, I’m old enough to remember when, if you didn’t cash your paycheck in time on Friday, you didn’t have cash until Monday morning.  Now we get impatient if it takes more than a minute.

We live in a world of ever-increasing convenience.  We don’t dial phone numbers.  We don’t have to walk inside a gas station to pay. Our boarding pass is on our smartphone screen.  We have drive-through everything!  (God forbid we get off our butts and actually walk inside a place!)  And yet, I know many dentists who don’t have evening hours, or early morning hours, or aren’t open at all on weekends. 30 years ago, when this was true of all dentists, it wasn’t a problem.  People expected you to be inconvenient–you’re a doctor, right?  All doctors work when they want. It was a great life.

All the evidence indicates that those days are pretty much over. When some dental practices are willing to be open Saturdays, even Sundays, and have one day a week when they see patients starting at 7am and another day when they’re open until 8 or 9pm, the inconvenient dentist is going to watch his patient base gradually erode.

And the demand for convenience won’t stop there.  They will expect you to respond to email, to text them their appointment reminders, to swipe their credit card chairside.  And soon, they will expect to make and change their appointments online 24 hours a day.  They can do it at restaurants (Open Table), their hair stylist, and their vet. They can call a limousine with a tap of their finger (Uber). They can make or change a plane flight without talking to anyone. And now some physicians have put their entire schedule online for new patients to book their own appointment (ZocDoc).

This may all seem like impending disaster for you, but it simply means that dental practices have to adapt to how people are behaving now.  It doesn’t mean you have to work more hours, just different hours.  Dentists who have weekend hours watch that part of their schedule fill up two months in advance.  And invariably an emergency comes in and they deliver a four-figure case that wasn’t even scheduled.  And then they take Sunday, Monday and Tuesday off.  And software will be available allowing patients to log in and self-appoint, and they will only be presented with the time slots that you allow, thereby filling holes in your schedule and freeing up front desk time.  And all new patients will have to give you a credit card number to hold an appointment.  Starting to sound pretty good, isn’t it?

Dentists ask me all the time how to deal with the shifting economy, and my short answer is this: “Be more accommodating.”   I’ll never forget my friend Dr. Mark Morin saying, “Am I open Sunday?  Hey, if you need a full-mouth restoration and you can only come in on Sunday, you bet your life I’m open!” You’re in a service business, after all, and convenience is good marketing. Having free WiFi in the office is a convenience (and helps you generate social media responses.)  Using CAD/CAM technology like CEREC cuts the number of appointments in half for the patient. That’s pretty darn convenient.  Allowing people to request an appointment on your website isn’t just convenient, it’s pretty much expected at this point.

So take a few moments and think about ways that you are inconvenient for your patients, and see what you can do to make things easier, faster, and more accommodating.  Okay, I’m off to the bank–I need to make a deposit. Wait, I can just take a picture of the check and it’s done! Woohoo! More time to play Angry Birds!


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6 thoughts on “The Rise and Fall of the Inconvenient Dentist

  1. Love the idea of the credit card to hold the appointment. Not the first time I have heard that and tried to implement it into everyday calls for new patients and large appointment blocks. DISASTER! It is a fast way to get them to hang up. I think it would also be a fast way to get them to click to another website without that requirement. Your thoughts?

    • I agree that it would be really difficult except for an after-hours emergency appointment. It’s a gradual process, a shift of consciousness about the making of an appointment with a medical office. For the record, ZocDoc already has this information when they make a medical appointment. I think it can be done differently than getting a credit card. But I know too many practices whose schedule is in constant flux, and I think we need to start booking like airlines, and even giving percentages of show-up rates based on the patients’ past behavior or odds on a new patient no-showing. The point is not to have the schedule damaged by people’s flakiness, which is getting worse as everyone gets busier, not better.

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