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
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