As the challenges of running a dental practice go, patient retention problems can be the most frustrating. You feel like you provide great care and a good atmosphere, but your patients aren’t returning for another visit. This negatively impacts your bottom line and makes you worry for the long-term health of those patients.
Today, we’re going to take the first step in solving this problem: helping you recognize why you’re having patient retention problems in the first place. Here are a few possible reasons.
1. Your Hygienists (or One or Two of Them) Are Rough and Unwelcoming
We hate to drop this one into consideration first. Because for the most part, we love our hygienists. Not to mention, you’ve probably worked hard to retain yours given the shortages of the past few years. But a hygienist that causes pain or discomfort—physical or emotional—is a factor you must consider when analyzing patient retention problems.
No matter how much a patient might like you and your perspective on their care, they won’t be back if the opposite is true of their hygienist. After all, the hygienist is the one spending the most time in their mouth and focusing on their specific oral health.
You’ll want to do this discreetly, but review your team of hygienists with these questions in mind:
- Do most of the patients who don’t return to the practice see the same one or two hygienists?
- Have we received any complaints about roughness or discomfort related to cleanings with a particular hygienist?
- Is any one hygienist known around the office for their big personality or off-putting sense of humor?
- Are front office team members aware that any complaints they receive via phone calls should be brought to you? Have they received any that they didn’t mention previously?
- Have any patients specifically requested not to see a particular hygienist when they called to make an appointment?
Now, there could be various reasons for many of these occurrences. And the truth is, it would be a very rare person who didn’t have a difficult interaction with a patient from time to time. But if you notice a pattern with respect to any of the above, it might be time to have a discussion with a hygienist.
2. They Feel Hurried and Unheard
On the other side of things, your hygienists might be able to help you diagnose the problem! Ask them if they feel overscheduled and rushed, and how that might be impacting patients’ experiences in your office.
If hygienists are constantly compelled to shove clients along because they know they have a packed calendar, this could cause patient retention problems. No one wants to feel that their concerns about their health are unimportant. And that’s how being rushed can make a patient feel.
You may have a full book of appointments, but if many are first-time patients, those numbers could eventually taper off without effective patient retention strategies in place within your office marketing and operations. Long-term, repeat patients are key to financial success for a dental practice.
3. Payment Options Are Slim
Speaking of finances—your patients may be leaving in favor of practices with more payment flexibility. This is another good reason to communicate clearly and regularly with your front office team. Ask them if there have been challenges with payment collections for what seems like an inordinate number of patients.
You can also analyze the ratio of patients who use the insurance providers you are in- network with. Maybe it’s time to switch things up?
Whether you drop your PPOs or add a new network, you can take other steps to improve payment processes too:
- Allow patients to pay with a variety of credit cards, including CareCredit.
- Offer in-house or third-party financing options wherein patients can pay for a bill over time for the price of interest.
- Create a dental membership plan, allowing patients to pay for their regular cleanings monthly or annually on a subscription basis.
4. No-Shows Are Embarrassed to Return
Another thing to check into: Do you have a large number of no-shows? The reason this relates to patient retention problems is simple. Some people might feel awkward, anxious, or uncomfortable calling to reschedule if they fail to notify you that they can’t make an appointment.
If this seems like it could be a part of the issue, consider implementing an automated confirmation system with emails and two-way texting, if you haven’t already. These options give patients a quick, low-confrontation way to say they won’t be attending their appointment, thus avoiding the discomfort later.
This automated system could also allow patients to more easily reschedule canceled appointments. Knowing this option is available to them could help patients overcome their anxiety about canceling their initial appointment and about rescheduling another, which can then help you retain them within your practice. And that brings us to our next point.
5. Making Appointments Is Difficult
There are quite a few reasons this might be. Maybe you need more team members to answer phones so that patients aren’t on hold for too long. Or perhaps you should look into hiring associate dentists and more hygienists, because existing patients can hardly get a spot in the overflow of new ones. Again, new patients are exciting, but you need to be retaining patients to maximize their lifetime value within your practice.
But another factor to consider is the evolution of who your patient is. Did you know that 70% of millennial patients would choose a doctor-provided app to review health records, manage their wellbeing, and schedule online appointments?
Consider developing an app, customizing a third-party solution, or simply building a form into your website for appointment booking. Depending on how many millennials you work with, it could make a huge difference!
As a recap, we covered these five reasons why your practice may be struggling with patient retention:
- Your Hygienists (or One or Two of Them) Are Rough and Unwelcoming
- They Feel Hurried and Unheard
- Payment Options Are Slim
- No-Shows Are Embarrassed to Return
- Making Appointments Is Difficult
Patient retention problems might feel overwhelming, but usually, they are the result of a simple issue you just need to invest time and effort into fixing. Remember to take stock and analyze your practice’s flow to ensure that none of the above reasons are true for your patients.