Reactivating Patients and When a Patient Declines Treatment
It has been said that it is five times the cost to attract a new patient versus keeping a current one satisfied. If a patient has not returned to your practice during a twelve month period, that patient is now considered inactive. These patients are often the easiest to appoint because most have just forgotten to call or were too busy to notice that it was time to come back for the professional teeth cleaning and exam. Many offices wait too long to call these patients or some offices don’t call at all. This is a missed opportunity to show that you care and that you believe the services that you provide are important to maintaining optimum health.
If the new-patient experience left the patient feeling unimpressed and the only thing worth remembering, and not in a positive way, is the $7,300 treatment plan presented haphazardly at the front desk, then failing to follow up will probably cost you the patient. Think for a moment what brought that patient to your practice in the first place. Was their chief concern addressed, was time taken with the patient to build rapport and trust? What kind of marketing motivated the patient to call - direct mail, signage, drive by, personal or professional referral? Whatever motivated the patient to contact you could get chalked up as a big mistake if the patient is less than satisfied with your services.
What will motivate practices to follow-up on unscheduled patients are unfilled appointment blocks in the schedule or what we often refer to as “holes in the schedule.” The calls made are outbound calls similar to cold calling or telemarketing and are not pleasant to make unless there are some good notes in the chart about the patient that can be used to build phone rapport. If it has been a long time since you tried to contact the patient, the patient may think that you are not interested in them so much as getting business in the door.
If you contact a former patient who tells you that they have decided to go to another dentist or that they are not interested in coming back to your practice, make sure to carefully note the call in the patient record along with a summary of the conversation. If the patient sounds receptive you may ask this question: “Mrs. Patient, may I ask why you have decided to leave our practice?” If you do not ask, most patients will not tell you the real reason for fear of hurting someone’s feelings or they don’t want to make trouble for anyone. Often patients feel that it doesn’t do any good because nothing will change.
If the patient is in the middle of treatment such as endodontic therapy and chooses not to return for treatment, send a certified letter with a return-receipt request stating the risks for not completing treatment and an offer to send them a copy of their records or to a dentist of their choice. Make notes in the chart and make sure to save or scan in any correspondence to the patient. Offer to refer the patient to another dentist or to the local dental society for a referral. Also note this in the patients’ record to reduce the likelihood of the patient claiming abandonment
Have a system of making 5 outbound calls a day to unscheduled patients. Even if you have to leave a message, it will plant a seed in the mind of the patient that you do care and you have not forgotten them. Make this call monthly until you hear from the patient. At some point the patient will call to appoint or will call to let you know what is keeping them from appointing.
If the patient does tell you why they are not returning to your practice and it has something to do with a communication or issue with a staff member or the dentist, don’t cast it off as an isolated incident, it could be indicative of a chronic condition that can cause the practice to suffer with loss of many patients. Take action to address the concern so that changes can be made for better communication and stop the loss of your valuable patients.
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