One of the key strategic targets that orthodontic practices should pay extra attention to during this time is the percentage of overdue debonds. According to the Levin Group Data Center (the data collection arm of Levin Group orthodontic consulting), the average orthodontic practice has approximately 5 to 6% of its patients overdue for debonds. Although we recommend a target of 2% or less, the 5 to 6% statistic has been stable for many years.
However, in the face of the coronavirus crisis we are projecting that the percentage of overdue debonds will rise to as high as 10 to 20+%, in many practices. With an understanding that overdue debonds is 100% pure overhead it becomes obvious why completion of these patients is essential. This will be especially important in the recovery phase that will ultimately occur following this crisis. You’ll need to build back production and profitability as quickly as possible. Think of overdue debonds as an anchor that will be dragging you down as you try to move your ship forward. Orthodontic practices looking to "right the ship" after this crisis should consider the following factors that are now contributing to overdue debonds:
Overdue patients. Overdue patients lead to overdue debonds. Amid the coronavirus crisis many orthodontic patients have postponed or canceled their appointments. There is a direct correlation between the number of patients who are overdue in their treatment cycle and the number of patients who are overdue for debonding.
Off-cycle patients. Prior to the coronavirus crisis there were patients already off-cycle throughout their treatment time. These delays contribute to overdue debonds. That may now be exacerbated by patients delayed in treatment due to quarantine and or a practice shutdown. Patients who previously missed appointments are most likely to delay getting back to the office for treatment once practices are open and operating.
Fear before the crisis officially started. Even before the ADA and state governments recommended any mandatory practice shutdowns due to the coronavirus crisis, there were patients who were already afraid to come to the orthodontic practice. In the weeks prior to shutdowns, no-shows and cancellations skyrocketed. It’s these patients who are most likely to schedule treatment once things return to normal and they feel comfortable. Your objective is to catch them up as quickly as possible.
Fear after the coronavirus crisis. Although it may not feel rational, there will be a significant number of patients who are still afraid to come back into the orthodontic practice even after you reopen. Over time these fears may and will dissipate, but some patients will remain off-cycle longer until they feel absolutely comfortable and certain that their health will be protected.
The economy. Once the United States moves through the coronavirus crisis there will likely be an economic recession. Most businesses have been negatively affected by the coronavirus crisis and it’s having a direct impact on the income and savings of many parents and patients, as well. As a result, many parents and patients will postpone or cancel treatment due to financial constraints. Ultimately, most of these patients will be seen but the treatment cycle will be delayed, leading to an even longer time frame for overdue debonds.
Overdue debonds will be an issue for orthodontic practices for some time to come. Track the percentages carefully and work to reduce them daily. Actively contact patients to schedule, add extra convenient hours, or even add extra days or weekend hours for a short time strictly to help patients return to the practice on a regular schedule, as quickly as possible.
Keep in mind that your goal for overdue debonds is 2% or below. It may take some time to get there but make it part of your tracking and strategic plan.