Why Do Patients Leave?
It used to be a commonly held belief that roughly 50% of the general population visited the dentist regularly - at least once, if not twice, a year. Today, barely a third of the population visits the dentist. There are certainly a multitude of factors that have influenced the decline. But the “why” is far less important than the “what,” as in what are you going to do about it?
Too often dentists and their teams aren’t paying attention to patient retention. They look at the schedule that appears full. They see the number of patient records in the system and assume most are active, until reality crushes their happy illusion. The money isn’t there for new technology. The doctor has to cut back on continuing education and team training because revenues are tight. Patient numbers are falling, leading to lower treatment acceptance and dwindling production. But why are patient numbers falling?
Doctor and staff are often blissfully unaware of what prompts patients to leave. As far as the dentist knows, there haven’t been more than a couple of concerns or complaints expressed here and there. But the fact is few patients will actually complain, and those who do are probably loyal patients who want to help correct a perceived problem. They actually care enough to say something. The rest just look the other way, or worse yet, walk away. If those loyal patients who had the courage to say something feel that their concerns are ignored, they are far more likely to feel that the practice does not value their patronage. They too are likely to leave, and the impact of their departure will ripple across the practice in ways many dentists never even consider.
After all, it is these patients who are most open to your treatment recommendations. They see the doctor and the team as their partners. They keep their appointments. They pay on time. They happily refer new patients. They understand the occasional bad day in which the team may run behind. They are forgiving of a minor error on their statement. They don’t look for a new dentist because of a slight infraction. They recognize that occasionally fees will increase. In short, they trust the dental team and they value the care that they receive.
You would be surprised by some of the reasons former patients have given for leaving a practice. The hours are not convenient. There’s no place to park. The doctor hurts me. I don’t understand the bills. They don’t accept my insurance. They changed a practice policy. They don’t answer the phone. I can’t leave a message. They charged me for a missed appointment. They are always trying to sell me something. The fees are too high. They can’t keep staff. They told me I have to go to a specialist. They don’t listen to me. They don’t like each other. The bathrooms are dirty. The person at the front desk is rude. The doctor’s always stressed.
While many of the concerns patients raise could be addressed with a few adjustments, oftentimes dental teams choose not to take patient concerns seriously. Rather they dismiss them as the patient’s problem. After all, that’s much simpler than addressing practice systems or changing staff procedures. And nothing could be easier than to blame the patient. “You know that Angela Sims is just like that obnoxious Mr. Banner. He always seems to have a problem with something. Whatever happened to him anyway?” Ah yes, little do they realize that the patient’s problem is the practice’s problem.
In other cases, teams will make what they consider to be improvements to practice systems or procedures but give little thought to the impact on the patients. “Our automated phone system helps us to virtually eliminate interruptions during the day. The patients just leave a message and we call them back as soon as we can.” In this case, the team’s idea of efficiency is the patient’s idea of inaccessible. Patients want to talk to a real person, right now. Nothing erodes essential practice/patient relationships (translation: patient retention) like poor service.
For more information on this topic and more, visit my blog: The Lighter Side
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