Top Reasons Your Practice Keeps Losing Patients
When patients enter your dental practice, they have certain expectations. They want to feel a connection with you and your team members, and they want to feel good about entrusting you with their dental care. If for any reason they don’t, most won’t hesitate to make their next appointment at the practice down the street – hurting your patient retention numbers and your bottom line.
The fact is, many practices struggle with patient retention and have no idea why. Let me put it into perspective for you. A McKenzie Management survey of dental practices in business for an average of 22 years revealed a 31% patient retention rate. That means for every 10 new patients who come to your office, at least seven will never return. So if you have 1,000 patient records on file, you really only have 300 active patients.
Depressing I know, but if this describes your practice, let’s look at it as an opportunity for growth. And don’t worry; you don’t have to do it alone. I’m here to help you raise your practice’s patient retention rate to 85, even 95 percent.
But first, you have to figure out why patients aren’t coming back. Here are a few of the most common reasons patients look for a new dental home, and tips to help you grow a base of loyal patients who wouldn’t dream of going anywhere else for their oral health care.
1. You don’t listen to them. This is important whether patients are complaining about something they don’t particularly like about the practice or if they’re telling you why they can’t go forward with treatment right now.
Let’s take a look at patient complaints first. If you don’t take complaints seriously, patients will start thinking about looking for a new practice before they even leave your office. Instead of shrugging complaints off, really listen to what patients have to say. Thank patients for bringing up their concerns and let them know you’re working to fix the problem.
Remember, if one patient is complaining about how long it took to get an appointment with the doctor or how long they were left on hold to make that appointment, chances are others patients are having the same problem too – they just didn’t take the time to tell you. Look at complaints as an opportunity for growth and you’ll improve your practice while keeping loyal patients happy.
Listening isn’t just important when patients are upset. I suggest you take the time to ask patients about their oral health goals and concerns. If they say they can’t go forward with recommended treatment, ask why and then help them find a way to overcome perceived barriers to care. Really listening to their wants, needs and fears will help you better focus your patient education efforts, while also showing you care – leading to more loyal patients who accept treatment.
2. Staff conflict is a problem in your practice. If there’s tension among any of your team members, trust me, your patients will notice. As much as you might want to, you simply can’t ignore conflict when it comes up in your office, and it certainly will. Work with team members to solve problems now so they don’t turn into bigger problems down the road. This will lead to a happier working environment, which will come through in the way your team members interact with patients.
3. They can’t get an appointment for weeks. When patients call, they don’t want to wait weeks or months to get an appointment. Even the most loyal patients will start looking for a new dentist if they’re told the doctor can’t see them for a month.
The problem is, when practices pre-appoint six months out, which many practices still do, it makes their schedule look fuller than it actually is. This, of course, makes it difficult to get other patients on the schedule, even though many of those pre-appointed patients are likely to cancel at the last minute, leaving you with holes to fill.
To avoid this, I suggest you develop a hybrid method for scheduling and leave room for patients who are ready to go forward with treatment. This will help ensure patients schedule with you, not another dentist who seems more flexible.
4. You make it difficult for them to pay. Many patients can’t afford to accept treatment if they have to pay all at once. If you don’t offer third party financing through a company like CareCredit, don’t be surprised if patients look for a dentist who does.
5. You make changes without consulting them. Thinking about doing away with your evening hours or implementing an automated answering service to take patient calls? You may want to get feedback from your patients first. Some of your patients might have initially selected your practice because of the flexible hours you offered, and most patients don’t want to leave a message and wait for someone to call back when they need to make an appointment. These types of changes will do nothing but annoy loyal patients, and might be enough to send them looking for a new dentist.
Strong patient retention numbers are key to growing a successful practice. Now that you know why patients aren’t coming back, it’s time to start thinking about making the necessary changes to expand your patient base and your bottom line.
Next week: Want loyal patients? Follow these tips
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
Untold Truth - Insurance Companies Hate Dental Policies
My opinion, based on filing dental claims since 1973, is that dental insurance is not profitable for insurance companies unless they charge premiums that are far more than the covered maximum benefit for the period of the policy.
Most people use their dental insurance for two hygiene cleanings, an examination and x-rays. After those procedures are completed the usage often goes down, as out-of-pocket costs outweigh the perception of benefit. Yes, even for fillings. But if the patient paid for the two cleanings, exam and x-rays out-of-pocket, they could negotiate and probably get the services for about the same as the policy costs the patient or employer.
Let’s face it, the insurance company needs profits to survive, so they are betting on keeping what is left of the $1,000 maximum because the patient opted to not use the benefit. It would make more sense if employers gave employees $1,000 worth of dental benefits a year and forgot about the dental insurance entirely. For those of you who don’t know, in 1973 the typical dental benefit was $1,000 and it paid for a lot of dentistry. We all know that $1,000 doesn’t cover much dentistry today.
Working for offices and filing claims for years tells me that dental coverage is terrible, and not so much from the percentages allowed but more for the low dollar benefit and the policy limitations. It is bad enough that only 1,000 benefit dollars are allowed per calendar year (average), but to further limit this dollar amount by contract/policy exclusions and limitations is absurd. It isn’t the insurance company’s fault that they want to make money by not spending it, but it leaves the patient without necessary care and with less than good health. For decades I have expounded upon the “myth of dental insurance” to my patients, only to be told they would “wait till it breaks” before taking a proactive approach to dental health care without dental insurance.
Many uninsured people postpone dental care because they don’t have coverage. The problem is, neglect of the mouth is accumulative. After several years of neglect, the cost to get the mouth in a healthy state again is never going to be covered by any typical dental insurance policy. On average, the cost to get anywhere close to fixing the neglected mouth will be about $10,000. The cost for dental insurance premiums would be far too expensive for employers to offer to their employees along with the costs for medical coverage.
I have witnessed patients coming in for care after years of neglect, not because they seek health, but because they finally have a dental policy. Most of these policies have a 12-month wait period before major services are provided because the insurance companies know the benefit dollars will quickly be used up. In many policies there is the detrimental “missing tooth clause” that in the dental world is the same as a “pre-existing condition” in the medical world. This clause is on many dental policies and it states that unless the policy was in place at the time the tooth was lost or extracted, there will be no benefit paid to replace the missing tooth or teeth.
The truth is, everyone will need a dentist at some point in their life. As long as dental insurance is offered by employers or made affordable by the ACA it is part of the culture and environment of the typical dental practice. It is not difficult to maximize the patient’s dental plan for the calendar year, especially with the years of neglect, but what is difficult is knowing how to negotiate the world of reimbursement to make sure the dentist is paid for services provided, and ensure the patient is benefitted by quality care to improve their health.
The world of dental reimbursement is getting more complicated, and now many patients are showing up with embedded or bundled policies that include their medical coverage and dental together. It is vitally important to be knowledgeable in this area of dental insurance benefits.
To learn the latest about dental insurance filing and reimbursement techniques, call McKenzie Management for a course in Advanced Business Management today.
Make Patients Want to Say Yes to Treatment
If production is down in your practice, revenues and team morale are likely suffering as well. It can be frustrating when patients keep saying no to treatment, especially if you have no idea why.
Patients opt to forego treatment for any number of reasons. Maybe they don’t think they can afford it or they’re worried about potential post-op pain. What they usually don’t understand is ignoring the problem will only make it worse, which could lead to more complicated, more expensive procedures down the road.
So what can you do to fix this? First, start building connections. Establishing trust and a rapport with patients is a great way to improve case acceptance. Take the time to get to know them. Ask about their jobs and their oral health goals. Talk with them about their concerns and educate them about their condition and the importance of maintaining oral health. Educated patients not only tend to be more loyal, they’re also more likely to accept treatment.
I’m also a firm believer in show, don’t tell. Just hearing why they need treatment might not be enough for some patients. Most of us make decisions based on touch, smell and sight. Think about what it would be like if you went shopping at a furniture store, but couldn’t touch anything. It would be difficult to make any decisions, so you might decide to walk out of the store empty-handed rather than spending money on expensive items you don’t know much about.
The same is true with dentistry. When educating patients, it’s a good idea to include presentation models and other tools to help patients understand their dental needs and why they should “buy” the treatment you recommend.
Here’s an example. When your hygienist talks to Mr. Perry about the crown he needs to replace an old silver filling, there’s a pretty good chance Mr. Perry doesn’t fully understand what your hygienist is talking about. He likely doesn’t know what a crown looks like, what it’s made of or just how much it’s going to cost him. This, of course, makes him hesitant to go forward with treatment, especially when he finally hears the price tag.
To keep patients like Mr. Perry from walking out of the practice without scheduling treatment, show them the value of the treatment they need. How? Make sure they understand how the crown will help them chew better, how it will improve their smile and how it will enhance their quality of life. Then, show them what it looks like.
You can do this with something as simple as another patient’s model that features a crown prepared by your lab. When patients see an actual crown, they place more value on it and what it can do for them. They can hold it in their hand and see how the tooth will be prepared. You also can use this as an opportunity to let patients know the strong, durable crown will be custom-made just for them, helping to ensure a comfortable fit that will last for years to come.
This not only gives patients the information they need to make an informed decision, it also gets them excited to say yes to treatment.
Showing patients what’s going on in their mouths is another way to improve case acceptance. As you discuss their condition, show patients pictures taken with an intraoral camera or bring up their x-rays. This will help them see what you see, and that will increase case acceptance.
It’s also important for you and your hygienist to be on the same page during patient appointments. If your hygienist spends time educating patients about their condition and recommended treatment, but then you come in and tell them everything looks great, the chances of them scheduling an appointment are pretty slim. These mixed messages confuse patients and almost guarantee they will say no to treatment.
To avoid this, have a quick conversation with your hygienist before talking with your patients. Ask what was found and what the hygienist recommends. This will ensure you’re communicating consistent messages to your patients.
Another tip? If you don’t already, consider offering third party financing. Many patients don’t go forward with treatment simply because they can’t afford it, and there’s no amount of patient education and communication you can provide that will change that. You can, however, help alleviate some of the financial burden. Accepting treatment becomes much more comfortable if patients know they can pay off a little at a time, rather than writing one large check.
If practice production has fallen into a slump, it might be time to consider making some changes. Follow these tips and you’ll be well on your way to boosting your production numbers and your bottom line.
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