Every dental office manager knows that retaining current patients is just as vital to an office’s success as it is to draw in new prospective patients from the community.
Through retention, established practices continue to thrive and grow.
But it doesn’t come easy. In fact, patient retention requires strategic methods and an action plan, because allowing it to happen on its own or by accident will only allow patients to slip through the cracks and go elsewhere for their care.
Know Your Patients
Come up with a plan to help staff remember patients and their personal situations. For example, have a digital photo of each patient on file and keep a note somewhere in their chart about what they talked about during their previous visit. Did Mrs. Smith brag about her son’s upcoming wedding? Ask her how it went! Remembering each guest who steps into your practice will help them to feel valued and appreciated…because you remembered them (even if you did need a little help!)
Give Them Time with the Dentist
Your dentist’s time is valuable, as is everyone’s in the office. But most patients want to have that one-on-one time with the doctor they feel they deserve. When they don’t get it, it sets a tone over the practice as a whole that they’re less important than the person in the next room.
Set aside a few uninterrupted minutes for the dentist to have a face to face with your patient where they’re not disturbed or distracted. Even if the patient isn’t there to see the dentist that day, try to arrange where the doctor can pop in just to say hello.
Reassess Your Patient Hand-offs
A lot of patients slip through the cracks when a message isn’t fully relayed from the back office staff to the team at the front. If the patient is considering not going through with a particular procedure, this is usually where the broken link in the chain will occur.
Here’s where communication is key. Use the patient’s name during your hand-off to other staff and always reiterate their needs or upcoming appointment protocol with the next staff member in front of the patient, even if they’re already aware of what the treatment plan is. You’re subconsciously reinforcing to the patient the value and need of their next steps in care.
Consider Modifying Your Financial Policies/Insurance Protocol
It’s vital to have an established financial protocol in order to reduce collections and minimize past-due accounts. But if those policies are also deterring patients from coming back to our offices, we’re shooting ourselves in the foot. To ease and minimize the risk of losing patients as we modify networks or collections protocols, it’s important to take a step back and look at the circumstances as if we were a patient with no hands-on experience managing claims.
Are there things that need to change? Do we need to improve the way we communicate these policies with our patients? Find a way to explain things so that they’re easy to understand yet still financially beneficial to the patients you serve. As you do, you’ll find that informed individuals will still be able to comply with your financial policy without immediately withdrawing and going elsewhere for care.
Education is key, but we have to keep our eyes open throughout the process.
Open the Door
You wouldn’t imagine how many practices leave the front door to their office locked, even if there’s five minutes left in the lunch hour or everyone is still sitting in the morning huddle. In most cases this is not a safety issue, but rather an impersonal way of saying “Sorry, but we’re not working yet.”
Unlock the door and have a small sign at the desk that says something like “We’ll be right with you! Please sign in” and allow patients to come in and get settled on their own time. Being so rigid that people are standing outside of the front door two minutes before the practice opens makes it feel as if staff are more concerned with their time cards than they are the patients coming in for care.
Run on Time
Scheduling strategies are key when it comes to making all patients feel confident entrusting you with their oral health. If you tend to run behind every day, it won’t take long for people to start to notice. The same can be said for how soon you’re able to see a patient back in your office for follow up care. If they’re waiting 8-9 weeks for a treatment appointment after their exam, they’ll feel like it’s not as much of a priority as you’ve made it out to be.
Patient retention is an ongoing process that never ends and almost always has room for improvement. Follow these six steps to start making big changes!