5 Reasons Your Practice Struggles with Patient Retention
If you want to create a thriving, profitable dental practice, you have to develop a loyal patient base. You need patients who trust you with their care, and who wouldn’t hesitate to refer you to family and friends. Yet, no matter what you do, your patient retention numbers remain abysmal, and it’s not only bringing you and your team members down, it’s costing your practice big.
The truth is, many practices struggle with patient retention. It’s frustrating I know, but there are steps you can take to turn it around. First you have to understand why patients don’t return. I’ve put together a list of five reasons patients don’t come back, and advice to help you grow patient retention rates to as much as 95% while also growing your bottom line.
1. You don’t connect with your patients. Most dentists prefer to focus on the dentistry, but no matter how good your clinical skills are, patients simply won’t come back if they don’t feel some kind of connection with your practice. Take the time to get to know your patients. Ask them about their family and their jobs, and talk with them about their dental health goals. Build a rapport, and encourage your team members to do the same. Let patients know you care about them, and you’ll win their loyalty.
2. You ignore patient complaints. When patients take the time to tell you their concerns, you better listen. Sure, patient complaints can be annoying, but trust me, ignoring them does nothing but hurt your practice. If you shrug off their concerns, patients will feel like you don’t value them or care about their experience at your practice, and that’s a great way to send patients running to the practice down the street.
Really listen when patients come to you with concerns. Apologize, and work to find a solution to the problem – a solution that will not only make the patient happy, but will also help improve your practice. Look at patient complaints as an opportunity for growth. After all, if one patient is upset because you don’t offer weekend appointments or because there was an hour wait to see the doctor, then I’m willing to bet other patients are experiencing the same problems, they just didn’t bother to tell you.
3. You make changes without considering your patients. Typically, when dentists make changes to their practice, they don’t think about what the changes mean for their patients. Instead, they simply focus on the benefits those changes can bring to the dentist and the team.
For example, while your team might be excited by the idea of implementing an automated phone system to eliminate interruptions, I can guarantee most of your patients will hate it. Think about it. Your patients are busy people, and when they call they want to speak with a live person to schedule their appointment or answer their questions. They don’t want to leave a message and then wait by the phone for someone to call back. And even though you can’t wait to cut your weekend and evening hours, your patients who depend on those appointment slots won’t feel the same, and will likely start looking for a new dentist who has a more flexible schedule.
Before you make major changes to your practice, I suggest getting patient feedback. At the very least, look at the changes from the patient’s perspective. This will help you avoid making changes that send your patients looking for a new dental home.
4. You don’t have time for them. When patients call your practice, they don’t want to feel like they’re bothering you, yet that’s often the case. The person who answers the phone is annoyed by these interruptions and either puts patients on hold right away or rushes them off the phone as quickly as possible. This isn’t how you develop loyal patients.
Make sure your team members are trained on proper telephone techniques and know how to make patients feel appreciated when they call. If you’d like some guidance on improving telephone techniques, consider taking my Telephone Skills Training to find out how you come across over the phone.
5. They have to wait weeks to get an appointment. When practices pre-appoint six months out, it makes their schedule look fuller than it actually is. So when patients call to try and make an appointment, they’re told they have to wait four, five, even six weeks to see the doctor, when in reality many of the pre-appointed patients taking up slots will cancel at the last minute or simply just not show up.
Instead of solely relying on pre-appointing, consider developing a hybrid method, and make sure your Scheduling Coordinator knows to leave room for patients who are ready to go forward with treatment. If you don’t, they may opt to find a new dentist rather than waiting for weeks to receive the treatment they need.
If you want to develop a successful, profitable dental practice, you have to find a way to boost your patient retention numbers. The first step is knowing what’s keeping patients from coming back. Avoiding these common pitfalls will help your practice develop a healthy patient base and a robust bottom line.
If you want an in-depth look at your practice’s patient retention, click here to take my free Patient Retention Assessment.
Next week, 4 ways to improve patient retention.
For additional information on this topic and more, visit my blog: The Lighter Side
Interested in speaking to me about your practice concerns? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Are You Putting Tools in your Team’s Toolbox?
Over the years we have all witnessed many changes in our industry. Not only changes in the clinical arena, but also in the business arena. While most dentists have kept current on all the latest gadgets, materials and bells and whistles that are used on a daily basis, they often fail to explore options for bringing the business equipment, software and systems into the 21st century.
It is not difficult to understand why – after all, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” Dentists read trade magazines relative to what they are interested in, and unfortunately, team members in the business area are not reading similar trade magazines that relate to their part of the dental world. As a result, the doctor is often unaware of what products and services are available to make the business more productive, efficient and customer service aware.
Example #1 – Practice Management Training
Doctor – please make sure that your entire team (yes, updates affect the clinical team as well) receives annual software training to learn what’s new. It is a small investment for the return that your team will receive in learning shortcuts and working more efficiently.
You may say, “All they have to do is ask and I will be happy to provide training for them. No one has asked.” Again, they don’t know what they are missing, so they don’t know to ask. They aren’t reading newsletters, trade magazines, listening to webinars or participating in other forms of education to keep them current, so they are in the dark. Enlighten them!
Example #2 - Business Equipment
Document Scanners: Let’s assume you are chartless. You may not be aware of this since you don’t spend time working in the business area, but your business team spends a lot of time scanning papers. The majority of the time I see these employees using the copier/scanner/fax machine, which can be extremely slow to scan. But they don’t know any different so they don’t ask for a more expeditious scanner that can scan multiple pages, insurance cards, backs and fronts, etc. in a matter of seconds. Bar scanners are very cost efficient and you can install one at each work station so they don’t have to get up every single time to scan something.
Credit Card Scanners: If you have more than one work station at the front desk area that takes payments, how many credit card machines do you have? I would guess one. This means at least one person has to get up every time to run a credit card payment and maybe everyone has to get up because of where the credit card machine is located. Guess what? You can obtain software and scanners that attach directly to the monitors and only one combined report is generated to balance at the end of the day.
Check Scanners: Are you the one in the office who makes the deposit every day? Maybe you enjoy chatting with the tellers. Or maybe one of the business team members takes the deposit daily and drops it into the night depository. Most banks have equipment available that allows your business team to scan the daily checks and funds are deposited directly into your assigned business account – no more going to the bank every day unless there is cash. Imagine the time saved by you or your team?
Doctor – ask your business team if these options would help them to be more productive. They may not know that these options are even available. Encourage your team to stay involved with the ever-changing aspects of their profession. Include articles from our newsletters, other trade magazines or webinars in your monthly meetings. Invite your team to add more “tools to their toolbox” by learning what is available and sharing how it would help them to help you.
Turn Data into an Action Plan for Practice Change
Seminars, continuing education webinars, journal articles, blogs, podcasts… these are just a few of the educational tools available to improve practice performance. The entire team might attend a course and then discuss it at the next staff meeting, throwing ideas around the room and making suggestions to start something new. However, the conflict between those who want to do something new and those who don’t can often cause the issue to die before it gets off the ground. Change is difficult for most people. There is fear involved and sometimes risk for many who like things the way they are and don’t see how change can improve things in general.
There are twenty different systems that operate in a dental practice. These systems are subject to performance measurement and improvement based on historical fact that can be analyzed by many of today’s dental software programs or by professional dental consultants who can interpret the information for you.
Let’s take your financial/collection system for instance. The measurement for the success of this system is the Accounts Receivable report along with the Outstanding Insurance Claim report. The AR report tells you who owes what, how much is owed and how long it has been owed to you. If the account balance falls in the 60 days aging column, then action is required to collect this revenue. If there is 10% or more of the total owed in the 90 day aging column, then your cash flow to cover overhead is suffering. Any insurance claims aging past 30 to 40 days is a sign that attention is required. With a system as valuable as this one, someone has to be in charge to make sure monies are collected promptly and correctly.
Your current system is to give a computer produced treatment plan estimate to anyone whose total is more than $500. No one has to sign a financial agreement. You collect co-payment for crowns and prosthetics only, claims are sent for payment and the patient is billed for any balance not paid by insurance. You give cash patients an immediate 10% reduction in the fee. You also give a 10% courtesy reduction to seniors over 62. You currently send about 150 statements monthly on the 25th of the month. This is the way you have always done it. The system was created by your previous office manager who has since retired and moved to Florida.
You and the business team just attended a billing/collection seminar and realized everything you are doing is wrong. How and what will you change? Who will be in charge of making and monitoring the changes? How do you create new systems to keep people from falling into the same routines? What do you tell your patients who are used to not paying? Don’t let fear of change stop you from adopting a better system. Start with one or two goals at a time. Suggested changes would be:
1. Everyone gets a computer generated treatment plan with estimated co-payment and deductible. This will increase over the counter collections for service as rendered.
2. Financial agreement is signed for any amount of treatment to prove that the payment options were discussed and agreed upon. Present CareCredit at this time for a payment option.
3. Collect for any co-payment due from insured patients at the time of treatment. If you are in-network with any insurance companies, this is required by the contractual arrangement.
4. Reduce fee for cash payments and senior courtesy. Give a 5% reduction in fee for amounts over $300 if paid with cash or check and 3% to anyone using a credit card. Giving a 10% or more reduction is assuming that you have a large markup in your fees.
5. Collect co-payments and deductibles at the time of service. This reduces the number of statements that go out. Patients don’t return when they owe you money, so fewer statements mean more patients who will return for treatment and recare appointments.
6. Diligently follow-up on any insurance claim in the over 30 day aging.
Most importantly, someone needs to be in charge of this system and accountable monthly for the numbers. Usually it is the Business Coordinator or the Financial/Insurance Coordinator or Office Manager. Need help implementing new systems or teaching your team how to talk to patients? Call McKenzie Management for the 2-day customized Front Office or Office Manager Training, and stop the loss of revenue.
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