I had our receptionists do it for years. They were required to fill out every single line on the ridiculously long new patient call sheet (and then some) on every single new patient call. The sheet asked for everything under the sun and we were determined to get every scrap of info – right there and then – no matter how much the patient or parent wanted to get off the phone. Our receptionists resisted and I told them to shut up and fill in the blanks no matter what. They said that patients and parents didn’t want to spend that long on the phone but I knew better. As the years rolled by, patients and parents became more and more resistant to all our questions on the new patient phone call but I stood fast because the new patient form was sacrosanct and could not be changed. There is no telling how many new patients I ran off with my stubbornness, blindly following the “best practices” of others…

I feel so silly looking back – a couple friends and I even discussed the problems that we had getting staff and new patients to “do the work” on the new patient form but it never occurred to us that we needed to change! Finally we came to our senses and we now have a much shorter new patient call sheet that is realistic in scope and time. Of course we would like to have all the info under the sun in an effort to make the new patient visit easier (easier for us that is) and yes we would like to have insurance ahead of time to verify benefits (verifying insurance can be done the day of if that’s how it has to be) but these days we would rather do what it takes to get the patient to show up at our office so we can talk about their needs in person rather than on the phone. The best way to get a patient to actually show up for the appointment is for them to feel good about the office, like the person they talk to, enjoy the new patient phone call process and be looking forward to meeting the doctor and the team.

Drilling new patients for information over an extended period of time is not conducive to a positive outcome!

Look, in the old days we could get away with asking for, no demanding, all the info we wanted, when we wanted it and patients would comply. These days odds are that you are just one of several orthodontists and PCDs who do braces on mom’s list so it is vital to make a great impression on the new patient phone call and even more important to make sure the new patient actually shows up in your office! The rest is icing on a cake – a cake that you don’t have yet!

So the logical question is why do consultants still recommend that you use these outlandish new patient forms with dozens of questions that must be asked and answered? I wondered about that for a long time but finally realized that it’s all about making sure the new patient on the phone call is the “right kind of new patient” so that you can maximize conversion rate. Traditional orthodontists and the consultants that currently dominate the market are much more about “batting average” than they are about “runs scored”. In other words they consider conversion rate as the end-all, be-all metric by which a practice’s success is measured. This mindset, though extremely common, is warped, off base and leads to behaviors aimed at maximizing conversion rate – actions that have a negative impact on your practice and your profitability. What kinds of things? Here are four examples of things traditional orthodontists do and KNOW are a good idea but that actually hurt their practices.


  • Giving patients the third degree on the new patient phone call to make sure they are the “right kind” of patient – We orthodontists believe that we are just gathering “reasonable” information and any “serious” patient will have no problem spending the time to give us what we “need”. However this procedure runs off all but the most determined new patients before they ever make it to our practice – resulting in a higher conversion rate as measured by # of patients who show/# of patients who start, BUT doing so actually hurts the practice by reducing the total number of starts because we don’t even get a chance to convince shoppers to buy from us!
  • Spending 10-20 minutes on the new patient phone call – it’s not only a negative for the patient, it is disruptive for the front desk and the patients who are present in your office and need assistance. Most offices don’t have the luxury of a call center so their receptionists must deal with people walking in the door as well as fielding calls. Spending that kind of time on one phone call is just not realistic for the modern orthodontic office if you want to keep your staffing to a reasonable level and having someone trying to do both often leads to neither job being done well.
  • Manipulating conversion rates to make our conversion rate appear as high as possible – I hear doctors rationalize their conversion rates all the time in an attempt to brag about how high it is. “If you don’t count the patients who don’t start, my conversion rate is 100%” – they don’t take it quite this far but darn close! We orthodontists like to exclude any and all patients who don’t start for one reason or another but this causes harm because we look at the patient who didn’t start as the problem instead of looking at what WE could do better next time. Blaming the new patient doesn’t help us improve.
  • Not accepting Medicaid and/or not counting Medicaid patients who don’t score in your conversion rate – I didn’t take Medicaid for several years because I was told in school that “they” were “not quality patients”. I’m ashamed that I judged an entire group of patients based on what some professors told me, but I learned a better way, changed and now accept Medicaid from three states. I would accept Medicaid if it only paid $1 for treatment for two reasons:
    1. Only the worst cases score enough points to qualify and they really need help so I’m happy to treat these patients even at a steep discount to my normal fee
    2. Those who don’t qualify, their family members, friends and neighbors are potential new patients that I would not get to meet otherwise![1]

In this day and age we can no longer do what we have always done and expect the same result. Times have changed and we MUST change with them, think about what we do, why we do them and how we go about doing what we do. Blindly following the traditional model is no longer a viable option if you plan to practice much longer.

[1] And if you hear that little voice in your head saying, “those people won’t pay for braces” then shame on you for judging people you don’t know and haven’t even met! Get over yourself and welcome ALL new patients.

3 thoughts on “10-Minute NP Phone Call?? Ain’t NOBODY Got Time For That!!

  1. Truth! I love when someone writes what is in my head, I love validation! Thank you.

  2. Glad you like it! I just wish I would have come to this realization years ago! No telling how many NPs I’ve run off.

Comments are closed.