Half of the formula to growing a successful dental practice is attracting new patients. The other half is dental patient retention. If attracting new patients is about ensuring a good first impression, then patient retention is about building lasting relationships. What are the most effective ways to build patient relationships? What strategies should you have in place to retain more patients?
Your Patient Base
You cannot grow a successful practice without growing your patient base. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), the average general dentist only retains 41 percent of patients beyond their first visit. Booking new patients is critical, but just booking new patients won’t cut it. You also have to maintain the ones you have. If you lose more patients through attrition than you gain with attracting new ones, then your patient base is sure to shrink. Attracting new patients and dental patient retention are both essential for a dental practice to thrive.
What Is Patient Retention?
It is normal to lose some patients. People move or their circumstances change. It is to be expected and beyond your control. What you don’t want is to lose patients because they are dissatisfied or do not feel cared for. This you have control over and is the heart of dental patient retention. The goal is to raise your patient retention rate.
Dental Patient Retention Strategies
Before implementing any strategy, learn what your dental patient retention rate is. How many patients are you losing monthly and annually? Once you can see the big picture, you can devise an intentional plan to improve patient retention. Set monthly and yearly goals to increase your retention rate. Take steps to design a doable plan and instigate it with your dental team.
Improve your dental patient retention by:
- Creating a positive patient experience
- Maintaining a customer service focus
- Building procedures from a patient point of view
- Developing effective communication
- Keeping in touch between appointments
Positive Patient Experience
A positive patient experience is vital to improving your retention rate. You want patients to receive great oral health care, but you also want them to feel they are receiving it. Perception is key. Think about the patient experience from the patients’ point of view. Making that positive perception shift is crucial to guaranteeing a positive patient experience.
Put Patients at Ease
When it comes to dental patient retention, details add up. Ensure patients feel comfortable and cared for by guiding them through their office visit from check-in to check-out.
Put patients at ease by:
- Escorting patients from the waiting room to the exam room
- Introducing each team member as patients come into contact with them
- Informing patients what will happen next and what to expect
- Paying attention to patients’ needs
- Listening to patients’ concerns
- Focusing on the individual
Time with the Dentist
Face-to-face time with the dentist is critical, even if the appointment is mostly with the hygienist. A dentist checking in to ask how it is going can have a positive impact. It can make a big difference on how the patient is feeling about the care they are receiving.
Customer Service Focus
Making patients feel welcome and comfortable is more than putting a sign on the door or providing a nice chair. It is a warm and friendly attitude that patients receive from you and your team at every point of contact.
When entering your dental office, patients see your front desk staff first. A personable and professional front desk is vital to building lasting patient relationships. Put procedures and protocols in place to introduce your practice as reliable and trustworthy.
Train your front desk team to:
- Answer the phone properly
- Show a pleasant and helpful attitude
- Greet patients by name
- Make eye contact and smile
- Communicate the timeframe for a visit
- Address any questions or concerns
Your check-out procedure is as important as your check-in. Make sure your patients leave feeling cared for. Escorting them to the front office is important here too. Don’t forget to also thank them for their visit. If payment options need to be discussed, do it in private.
When a patient checks out, make sure they have:
- A print out of their detailed treatment plan
- An understandable cost breakdown
- A branded bag with oral care products and something special like lip balm or breath mints
Check out is also the best time to set up a patient’s next appointment. Keeping a patient on the schedule is crucial to dental patient retention. Do it while they are standing in your office. It saves time for both your patients and your staff.
Procedures from the Patient Point of View
Taking a patient’s point of view on office procedures can make a significant impact on your dental patient retention. From scheduling to billing, your patients’ perspective matters when building a lasting patient relationship.
Stay on Schedule
Showing you value a patient’s time is critical. Making someone wait sends the wrong message. It gives a negative perception that can color the rest of a patient’s visit. Even if you provide the best oral health care, making a patient wait overlong tarnishes it.
Minimize the time a patient spends in your waiting room with an efficient booking system that:
- Reduces overbooking
- Makes room for cancellations, walk-ins, and emergencies
- Streamlines your patient reminder and confirmation processes
Yes, you want your front desk staff to book appointments at check out. If they don’t, implement a process for immediate follow-up. A contact procedure for overdue patients and to confirm appointments is critical. Automating your system wherever possible goes a long way too.
Communication Is Fundamental
Respectful communication from you and your team is foundational for dental patient retention.
How to actively use respectful communication:
- Let patients know if you are running late
- Explain procedures with understandable language
- Follow up with a patient after a difficult procedure
- Create a good patient communication template for your dental staff
A follow-up call is a retention call. Thank patients for referrals and their loyalty. Show your appreciation with notes, postcards, or short messages.
A part of relationship building is getting to know someone. Get to know your patients and let them get to know you. You want to strive for a professional yet personable tone. Interactions should be prompt, direct, and thorough.
A few tips for successful patient interaction:
- Listen and ask questions
- “How are you” is more than a nicety. It shows concern
- With dental procedures, start broad and then hone in on the details
- Always ask if a patient has questions
- Understand and remember a patient’s priories and treatment preferences
- Don’t over use jargon
- Emphasize the positive benefits of a treatment
- Paint a positive picture of results and solutions
- Don’t rush. Take time to have a conversation.
- Address needs and concerns with empathy
- Communicate with visuals
- Inform patients about the length and cost of treatment
- Communicate payment and financing options
Most people only visit their dentist a few times a year. Social media can build a relationship with your patients outside of those visits. It is a vital way to remind people that you are there to help them maintain good oral health all year long.
Blogs, newsletters, social media posts, texts, and postcards can keep patients informed about your practice. Let them know about new services, procedures, or equipment. Allow your personality to come through along with your expertise. It’s a way to show genuine caring and build the trust necessary for dental patient retention.
Seek Out Online Reviews
Patient referrals from existing patients is a successful strategy to bridge your patient retention strategy with your new patient strategy. One way to do this is with patient referrals and online reviews. Positive feedback from a long-term patient leaves a more positive impression than an online review from a new patient. It shows consistency.
Successful Dental Patient Retention
Finding creative ways to increase patient volume needs to be firmly planted in continuous improvement. Patient satisfaction surveys are an effective tool in understanding your patients’ point of view. You can gather information on an ongoing basis and use the feedback to make changes when necessary. You can also catch complaints right away and apply timely remedies. The goal is to always strive to do better.
First impressions are important. Dental patient retention though is about creating more than an impression. It’s about building lasting relationships. Successful dental patient retention strategies help prevent your old patient from becoming someone else’s new patient. It is the way for your dental practice to not only grow but thrive into the future.