Do you have loyal patients or do you have satisfied patients? Or do you have patients who are both satisfied and also loyal? What’s the difference? Loyal patients are keeping your practice afloat. Satisfied patients are there until they find a reason to leave or you convert them to loyal patients. Don’t believe me? Consider this: A few years ago the Harvard Business Review reported that between 65-85% of people who leave one business for another do so even though they are satisfied.
“But Sally, my patients wouldn’t just leave my practice.” True. They usually have a reason, and dental teams are often more than a little surprised by what some of those reasons are: The practice 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. What dental teams might consider to be insignificant issues or minor patient problems, are costing practices a fortune in lost loyalty. Obviously, it doesn’t take much to motivate patients to take their dental needs and wants elsewhere.
In other cases, the dentist may want to address patient concerns, but the staff digs in at the mere suggestion that they do things differently. “Our hours have been 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. four days a week for the last ten years, why should we change it now?” Because they no longer serve the needs of the patients, for starters. If staff balk at necessary changes in operations and/or key systems that’s a good indication of poor hiring practices, lack of training, and fledgling leadership. All of which undermine patient loyalty (translation – patient retention).
In some practices the doctor and team find it much easier to use convenient excuses to justify the shrinking patient base rather than face the reality that it could be practice systems and staff procedures that are driving patients out. “You know that Carolyn Murphy is just like that nasty Mr. Peters who always seems to have a problem with something. Whatever happened to him anyway?” Ah yes, it’s so much easier to blame the patient than to consider that when they raise an issue or a concern or, heaven forbid, a problem they are cluing you into a crack in your system through which you are likely losing patients. But doctor and team often have little interest in being responsive. It’s much easier to see the complaints as isolated incidents.
Or the team’s idea of efficiency is the patient’s idea of inaccessible “Our automated phone system helps us to virtually eliminate interruptions during the day. The patient’s just leave a message and we call them back as soon as we can.” Patients want to talk to a real person right now. If you can’t handle the demand, something is wrong with the system.
All the while doctor and team justify their rigid inflexibility by convincing themselves that all those patient records indicate a loyal and satisfied patient base. But just how many loyal patients do you really have? Find out.
Count the number of inactive patient records taking up space in your files or tucked away firmly out of sight in the computer, out of mind, and out of reach. Active patients are those who have been in for a periodic exam within the last 12 months. Inactive patients have not and cannot be counted. Next, have you increased the number of hygiene days per week in the last year? Is your hygienist’s salary more than 33% of what she/he produces? Finally, have you converted 85% of your emergency patients to comprehensive exams?
If the number of inactive records is enough to open a second practice, you have patient retention problems. If you have not increased hygiene days, you have patient retention concerns. If your hygienist’s salary is more than a third of what she produces and if you haven’t converted 85% of your emergency patients to loyal patients, you have more patients leaving your practice than you have new patients coming in.
Next week, building and keeping a loyal patient base.
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