How to Build Strong Patient Relationships
If you’re trying to grow your practice (which I imagine you are), you likely spend a lot of time thinking about how you can attract new patients. Yes, attracting new patients is important to practice success – but so is keeping current patients happy.
Think about it. New patients don’t do you much good if they come in for an appointment or two, only to decide your practice just isn’t the right fit. That’s why you need to focus on retaining these patients. Loyal patients are more likely to accept treatment and to refer, boosting your production numbers and bottom line.
So how can you improve your patient retention numbers to 85, even 95 percent? It starts with building strong patient relationships. Here are a few tips.
Get to know them. Talking with your patients for five minutes every six months isn’t going to do the trick. During their appointments, ask them about work and their families. Talk with them about their oral health goals and address any concerns they have. Sure, the appointments might take a little more of your time, but you’ll soon start building a rapport with patients, which leads to trust and practice loyalty.
Send handwritten thank you notes to new patients. Now I know your first thought probably is ‘but Sally, I really don’t have time.’ The good news is, these highly effective handwritten notes don’t take long to write and are well worth the effort. Keep them simple but personal. Here’s an example:
This is much more impactful than a generic card thanking patients for their business. These handwritten notes will make your practice stand out, while also showing patients you care. You can even task one of your team members with writing these thank you cards.
Acknowledge the parts of the visit patients dislike most. Unfortunately, there are certain aspects of a dental appointment most patients dread. Address these topics from the beginning, starting with injections. Patients might not realize there are products that make painless injections possible. Talk to them about your injection method and its benefits, especially before you give a shot in a sensitive area. Patients will not only be more comfortable, they’ll remember the conversation and the effort you’re making to make treatment as pleasant as possible.
Stay on schedule. Patients don’t like to be kept waiting, and if it happens often enough, they’ll likely start looking for a new dental home. Communicate with your Scheduling Coordinator about how much time is needed for each procedure, rather than leaving him/her to play the guessing game, and develop a system that helps ensure you’re never double booked.
Another tip? Instead of checking hygiene patients at the end of their appointment, do it when it’s convenient for you. It might seem odd at first, but it can help improve efficiencies and keep you on track.
Thank patients who refer. I’m not just talking about thanking them the next time they’re in the office or over the phone. I suggest you send flowers or a fruit basket to their workplace. Not only is this a nice gesture, it will help create buzz about your practice. Co-workers will ask where the gift came from and why, which could help you generate even more referrals.
Make it easy for patients to accept treatment. Often, patients say no to treatment for one reason: they simply can’t afford it. That’s where third party financing options like CareCredit can help. CareCredit enables patients to pay small amounts each month rather than writing one large check, making them much more comfortable with the financial commitment.
Keep in touch. Remember, you don’t have to be chairside to connect with patients. I suggest you reach out in between their appointment times by sending birthday cards, educational articles and e-newsletters. These marketing efforts will help patients keep your practice and their dental health on the top of their mind, while also educating them.
Most patients want to feel a connection to the practice they call their dental home. They want to know you and your team members care about their wellbeing, not just selling them on dentistry. Follow these tips to build a loyal, strong patient base filled with people who are happy to accept treatment and refer your practice.
For additional information on this topic and more, visit my blog: The Lighter Side
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Creating a List to Call For Changes in the Schedule
Many times we look ahead at the doctor and hygiene schedules and see they are absolutely full – but once the confirming is done, you may end up with holes all over the place. Seeing a full schedule gives a false sense of security. This is why, no matter what, the recall system needs to be worked continuously. In addition, it’s important to work on building a list to call from when there are last minute changes.
It really doesn’t matter what you call this list, as long as you don’t refer to it as “the cancelation list” to patients, as that term indicates it’s ok to cancel. I know it sounds picky, but it really does make a difference. I like calling it “the priority list”. This gives the patient you are working with a sense of having priority over everybody else when it comes to appointments that become available.
Patients do not need to know why openings become available. This is NOT the time to say, “We had a cancelation in our schedule for today at three. Would you like to come in for that appointment?” By doing so, you are telling that patient that not only is it all right to cancel, but ok to cancel last minute.
As far as the patient is concerned, perhaps the hygienist or doctor added extra hours to their schedule. It’s really not the patient’s concern why the schedule has time available – the only concern they should have is knowing they can have their appointment today. One way of saying this is, “We just had some changes in our schedule for today. Would you like to come in at three?”
Now to start building “the priority list.” If a patient gives you a specific day or time when they would like to come in and you are not able to give it to them, you may want to ask if they would like to be on the priority call list. This is for both the doctor and hygiene schedule.
When a patient tries to make an appointment on a certain day/time, it’s often because their life is extremely busy and they know an appointment on that day will not interrupt things quite as much as another day. Although the patient may be willing to take another appointment, if they can get in on their preferred day by being on the priority list, they will be thrilled!
The priority list is helpful for making recall appointments as well. If a patient is not able to schedule on the day they are supposed to come in, the Scheduling Coordinator should be asking them if they would like to be added to the priority call list in order to stay on schedule and maintain the health of their mouth.
We’ve all had last minute cancelations in the schedule. Even if you can only partially fill the opening, think of the production saved. Having a large “priority call list” is crucial when it comes to keeping your schedule full and providing even better customer service to your patients. It’s as easy as regularly asking patients: “If I have an appointment come available that gets you in sooner, would you like us to call you? What day and time is your preference?” Add this into your verbiage, even when the schedule appears to be booked solid!
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