7 Strategies Dentist Can Use to Improve Patient Retention
by Tyson Downs
Are you struggling with your patient retention rate? As a healthcare professional with your own practice, it can be disheartening to see your former patients going to your competitor. Get them back with these 7 (plus 1 bonus) incredible strategies that are guaranteed to work.
The ADA projects the supply of dentists in the US will increase through 2035, thus it is more important than ever to treat your patients well and really earn their business.
You want good patients to return and recommend you to their friends and family when someone is in need of a great dentist.
Many practices have forgotten that patients have plenty of choice for their dental care needs and just how important customer service is to retain patients.
Of course, some level of patient attrition is to be expected.
You can't get around the fact that some patients will move, but the last reason you want them to leave is because you could have done a better job of making them feel welcome, comfortable and appreciated.
Before we begin, be sure to know your retention rates.
How many patients are you losing on a monthly/yearly basis?
Are you losing them because of normal attrition or because of low patient satisfaction?
Here are 7 (plus 1 bonus) ways to be an exceptional dentist, which will improve patient retention.
1. Make a Great First Impression
This may seem like a no-brainer, but when it comes to distinguishing between a good dentist and an exceptional dentist, the details matter.
The first impression will either be the first phone call that a patient makes to your office or it will be finding your website online. Either way, you want the patient to find your dental practice professional, high-quality and caring.
First, I’ll go into more detail about how to handle patient calls.
When a patient calls to schedule an appointment, it is always best to have one of your team members answer the phone, with a friendly tone and smile, rather than letting the call go to voicemail.
If you have a higher call volume than your staff can handle, it may be necessary to have an answering service as a backup. This is highly preferable to a voice mailbox because the patient interacts with a live person. Just having an answering service as opposed to letting it go to voicemail can improve patient loyalty and improve patient retention.
When a new patient calls for an appointment, have your staff take the opportunity to introduce you or another dentist in your practice and the practice itself. I covered this in a recent post on how your staff can take this opportunity to introduce your practice brand identity.
You may want to keep a one-page reference sheet by the phone with information on which insurance the practice accepts, and general information about the doctor(s) and services.
The goal of the call should be to address the callers’ questions and get them on the schedule without taking up too much of their or your staff member’s time.
If insurance needs to be confirmed, schedule the patient first and then call to verify their insurance later.
On the other hand, if your potential patient is visiting your website first, in order to make a great first impression, a good dental website needs to be aesthetically pleasing and easy to navigate.
On average, a person decides within 8 seconds of looking at a dentist’s website if they will call that dentist or not.
Your website can make or break your business, so be sure yours has a professional design, the essential pages with sufficient information, and a call to action.
The saying “you never get a second chance to make a good first impression” is very true.
Be sure you’re giving your best first impression by training your employees how to best answer phone calls and by ensuring your website looks sharp and has all the essential information.
2. Make Patients Feel Welcome and Comfortable
You can’t make a great first impression and then stop there. Every interaction a patient has with you and your employees makes a difference to whether they will keep coming back or not.
You want your patients to feel welcome and like they are part of your family. If they feel like they could get the same experience anywhere else, they may be inclined to leave.
Your dental team needs to have a great attitude, and be warm and friendly with patients to stand out from other dental offices.
Here are few things your staff can do to help the patient feel comfortable and welcome:
- Greet patients (by name if a repeat visit) as soon as possible when they enter
- Smile and make eye contact with patients when they see them in the office
- Offer a bottle of water while they wait
- Let them know the time-frame for when they will be seen
- Offer to have them brush their teeth in the bathroom if they need to
How your patients are treated and their feelings during their time in your office are what they will remember as they decide whether to return.
If they felt uncomfortable or underwhelmed with the service, it really doesn’t matter how good of a dentist you are.
Remember, it doesn't matter what YOU think the experience is, what matters is their perception of their experience in your medical practice.
3. Waiting Room Essentials
While it’s important to minimize the amount of time patients have to wait to be seen, you still want the time they spend in your front lobby to be enjoyable by offering them amenities.
Is there plenty of comfortable seating? Do you have magazines to read or something pleasing to look at such as a painting or professional photography?
A family or personal photo of the dentist(s) displayed on the wall or a side table reminds the patients of the warm and friendly professional they are there to see.
Some nice plants and warm lighting also add to a comfortable ambiance.
If you are a family practice, be sure to have a play area for children with toys, books, and games.
If you don’t have the space for a whole play area, then a toy box and a basket of books are enough to keep children happy and occupied while they wait.
Parents really appreciate any thought you put into keeping their children occupied and entertained while in your office.
If you and your staff make their children feel welcome and special, they will keep coming back year after year.
4. Stay on Schedule
By keeping your appointments running on schedule, it shows your patients that you value their time. This is actually a major factor for patient retention.
When your patients frequently experience long wait times, it sends a message of indifference.
According to a study performed by the American Journal of Managed Care, long wait times not only affect overall patient satisfaction, but also negatively affect the perception of the providers and the quality of care.
Be sure your employees know how to book sufficient time for patient visits based on what procedures need to be done, and try not to overbook patients.
Reminding patients of their appointment with a phone call or text the day before lets them know that you care about seeing them and respect their time.
One dental practice examines their weekly schedule on a daily basis to take into account any cancellations, walk-ins and last-minute emergencies. This helps them stay on schedule when unexpected patient visits occur.
They view any openings in the schedule as an opportunity to see additional patients who are either walk-ins or are on a call list to come in sooner.
This is a great way to maximize the number of patients your practice can see per day while staying on schedule.
5. Guide the Patient Through the Visit
Guiding the patient through the entire process from check-in to check-out is essential to continue making a good impression and help make the patient feel at ease and comfortable.
Does the team member escorting patients back to the exam room smile? Do they provide an introduction to the next team member?
After the patient sits down in the chair, tell them what will happen next.
For example, “Anna will come in next and take your digital x-rays, then our dental hygienist Sarah will perform your cleaning.”
If you give your patients information about what is going to happen during their visit, they will feel more in control and less anxious.
It’s important to pay attention to patient needs, big or small, and to hear them when they share their concerns with you.
Taking the time to listen to their concerns shows you care. Even if the issue seems trivial or out of your control, listen.
6. Get to Know Your Patients and Don’t Rush
While it truly takes a team to care for a dental patient, many people see their time with the dentist as a major factor in whether they are satisfied with the visit or not.
If it is the first time you are seeing a patient, be sure to introduce yourself and shake their hand.
Let them know you appreciate them choosing you and your practice, and ask them if they have been well taken care of before you begin the exam.
This shows you care about how well they are being treated by your staff and that you want to ensure the highest level of service.
Get to know your patients better by asking them questions about what they do for a living or if they have lived in the area long.
If it is a patient you have seen before, greet them by name and try to remember something about them to ask them about.
Have your team members leave some personal notes about each patient in their file, and use them as great jumping off points for conversation at future appointments.
When you develop more personal relationships with your patients, it increases their loyalty to you.
Be sure to address all their needs and concerns, and make use of images, videos, etc. to help patients visualize the impact any proposed treatments will have on their smile. Before and after pictures work great for this.
You want your patients to see you as a friend with dental expertise, and if you are asking them to trust you with extensive and costly dental work, be sure to cover everything with them:
- procedure details
- benefits of treatment
- length of treatment (how many appointments will be needed and how long each will last)
- cost of treatment
- payment and financing options
Be warm and friendly and take the time to have a discussion. Don’t give patients the impression that you’re rushing to get to the next patient.
To keep building on the relationship you have with patients after their visit, consider writing a dental blog on a bi-weekly or monthly basis.
Patients can relate to and bond with you and your practice when they get to know you better and see more of your personality, thoughts, and emotions. It also allows them to see you as genuine and caring.
Blogging also allows you to give your patients and prospective patients more information about topics that you have expertise in, thus building on their trust in you.
7. Patient Checkout
Checkout is the last interaction in a visit, so you want to make sure patients leave your office feeling well-served and positive.
If you proposed a treatment plan, print out the procedure details and cost breakdown for them to review once they get home.
If they need to discuss finance options or a payment plan, be sure to have a private area for that.
Of course you want to give patients something when they leave to help them take care of their oral health, but why not give them a little extra surprise to create goodwill and loyalty?
This could be a lip balm, breath mints, or a canvas bag to put everything in, all printed with your logo, phone number and web address.
The last employee they interact with should escort them to the checkout area and say something like,
“Thank you for coming in today. We enjoyed seeing you. Alyssa will set up your next appointment and then you’re all set. We’ll see you next time! Take care.”
These recommendations may seem like small details, but they all add up to a great patient experience, great customer service, which will allow your office to improve patient retention.
When you do all you can to ensure that patients have an exceptional experience with your practice, you not only increase the likelihood they’ll return, but also the possibility that they’ll refer you to their friends and families, thus helping your practice grow.
If you feel overwhelmed, try to pick 1-2 areas where you feel your practice has the most room for improvement and focus on those before tackling other areas.
Baby steps. Take one area, master it, and move on.
It isn't where you are right now, it is the direction you are headed in, remember that.
About the Author
Tyson Downs, the owner of Titan Web Agency, has years of experience working with small businesses and helping them meet their revenue goals. Prior to starting Titan Web Agency, he freelanced in SEO and Web Design while working in the corporate world. Tyson is a graduate of Brigham Young University, the father of 5, and enjoys spending time with his family. Particularly on the baseball field.