You take pride in delivering the best patient care possible. You invest in the latest technology, have top-notch dental skills, and a team that boasts years of experience. While that’s all great, and important to the success of any dental practice, none of it really matters if you don’t have any patients.
If you want your dental practice to thrive, you need to develop a strong patient base. You need loyal patients who wouldn’t dream of going to another practice for treatment. Now you’re probably thinking you have plenty of these loyal patients, and you may even be able to name a few off the top of your head but I can guarantee you don’t have as many as you think.
Take a look at your patient retention numbers and you’ll soon realize you need to do more to turn new patients into loyal patients. Don’t believe me? Think about this. I recently did a survey that covered dental practices in business for an average of 22 years. The survey revealed a patient retention ratio of 31 percent. So for every 10 new patients who visit your office, seven will never come back. To break that down even further, if you have 1,000 patient records on file, you, dear doctor, only have 300 active patients.
If that didn’t get your attention, I hope this will: While these numbers are a little depressing, they don’t have to be your practice numbers. With a few changes, you can increase patient retention to 85, even 95 percent. Think about what that type of growth could do for your bottom line.
But before you can realize such growth, you have to figure out why patients aren’t coming back. Here are five common reasons patients start looking for a new dental home, and what you can do to make them stay.
1. Your customer service is lacking.
When patients walk into your dental practice, they want to feel welcome. They’re likely a little nervous, especially if they’re visiting for the first time, and a warm greeting or a friendly smile can go a long way in helping them relax. If your front office is too busy answering phones to offer patients a proper greeting, it sets a negative tone for the rest of the visit.
Make sure one person is responsible for greeting every patient and making them feel welcome. Provide a comfortable waiting area, and think about offering water or coffee to patients as they wait. Make the experience as positive as possible from the beginning, and they’ll be more likely to come back.
2. It seems like you don’t have time for them.
When patients call your office to make an appointment, they don’t want to be put on hold as soon as someone on the other end picks up. Make sure your front office knows how to handle telephone calls, and to offer patients a friendly greeting before asking them to hold. This, combined with telling patients why they’re being put on hold and how long they should expect to wait, will help keep them from getting irritated, hanging up the phone, and calling another practice.
3. You don’t make patient concerns a priority.
Most patients don’t tell you why they’re unhappy with your practice. Typically, they find another practice and you never hear from them again. So when a patient does tell you about a problem, and gives you the opportunity to fix that problem, you better listen. In fact, consider it a gift.
I know it’s easy to ignore complaints and even blame the patient, but resist the temptation. If one patient is annoyed because he always has to wait 30 minutes or more to see the doctor, or because you stopped offering evening and weekend hours, chances are other patients feel the same way. Don’t just shrug these complaints off. Use them to make positive changes, and you’ll reap the benefits of a stronger patient base and a better practice.
4. It takes months to get an appointment.
If you pre-appoint six months out, your schedule looks fuller than it actually is. Many pre-appointed patients will cancel or not show up at all, because while they didn’t have any work commitments or family obligations at 10 a.m. on January 8 six months ago, they do by the time that appointment rolls around.
Not only does this leave your scheduling coordinator scrambling to fill the holes left by these broken appointments, this system makes it difficult to schedule patients who actually want treatment. They understand the treatment plan, are ready to go forward, but are told they’ll have to wait four, five, or even six weeks to see the doctor.
This is a great way to lose otherwise loyal patients. They feel like they’re not important to you and that you don’t value their business. While the most loyal of patients may put up with this once or twice, eventually they’ll start looking for a dentist with a more flexible schedule.
5. You don’t take the time to develop relationships.
If you want loyal patients, you have to build relationships with them. While you might prefer to just get lost in your work and let the dentistry speak for itself, most patients want more. They want to feel like they know you, and that they can trust you with their dental care. If you just rush in and rush out of the operatory with a few passing words about the weather, that isn’t going to happen.
If patients don’t feel a connection with your practice, they’re probably not going to come back. Sadly, I’ve seen it happen to the best dentists. The doctor performs superior dentistry, yet patient retention rates are abysmal - I’m talking 20 percent and lower. A big part of the problem is these doctors just don’t see the value in building patient relationships.
This is something you can easily change. Take the time to talk with patients about their families and their jobs. Ask them about their dental health goals. Not only will your patients enjoy the appointments more, you will too. Another bonus? Patients will trust you more, and you’ll see a rise in case acceptance.
You can’t expect patients to come back to your practice just because you offer great dentistry. So does the practice down the street. But if you make every patient feel welcome and let him or her know you care, you’ll create loyal patients who will help you build the successful dental practice you’ve always dreamed of owning.
If you want to know how your practice is doing, click here to take my free Patient Retention Assessment.