When was the last time a patient called, wrote, or dropped by to ask for an x-ray transfer and offered you a detailed explanation and an apology for their decision to leave your practice?
Let’s face it: every dental practice loses patients every day. Most never know why or consider the impact on the business. When patients disappear, most dentists just consider it part of “business as usual.”
But before you accept patient loss as just a part of business as usual, consider these common customer service statistics:
- It is 6-7 times more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to keep a current one. Source: White House Office of Consumer Affairs
- On average, loyal customers are worth up to 10 times as much as their first purchase. Source: White House Office of Consumer Affairs
- 78% of consumers have bailed on a transaction or not made an intended purchase because of a poor service experience. Source: American Express Survey, 2011
- A typical business hears from 4% of it’s dissatisfied customers. Source: “Understanding Customers” by Ruby Newell-Legner
- For every customer who bothers to complain, 26 other customers remain silent. Source: White House Office of Consumer Affairs
Losing patients costs you money. Attracting new patients costs you time and money. And all of that can add stress to you and your team. Doing all you can to retain your patients will, in the long run, help you create and maintain a financially healthy, personally rewarding, and thriving practice.
To stop the exodus, start by understanding the most common reasons patients leave, and take simple, concrete actions to keep them. Let’s explore the 8 most common reasons patients cite for leaving, saving the best for last:
8. Your patients are unaware that you offer the services they want.
Perhaps a patient leaves you because a friend told them about the great new “cosmetic dentist” who whitened their teeth to a dazzling sparkle. Your patient wants that same dazzling sparkle, and doesn’t even know you can provide the same service at a higher quality and lower cost, so they just “jump ship.”
How to keep them: Make sure you and your staff inform your patients about the services and products you offer and how you can help them, especially when it comes to elective treatment. Keep products, brochures, and information sheets close at hand and visible.
7. Your patients might be embarrassed about how long they have put off their follow-up visit.
It’s human nature to make mistakes, put things off, and feel too embarrassed to admit it. When that happens, patients don’t call when they should, their condition get worse, and they simply go Missing In Aciton.
How to keep them: Establish a regular communication procedure, and tell your patients you will follow up with them when it’s time to schedule a visit. Review your charts regularly, and let your MIA patients know that you value them and are there for them.
6. Your patients think you are “too expensive.”
Let’s face it – dental care can be expensive. Most patients have no idea how much dental services cost, and no matter what your fees are, some patients will perceive them as “too expensive.”
How to keep them: Help your patients see that treatment can be affordable by providing payment or financing options, including CareCredit.
5. Your patients owe you money, or are behind in their payments.
Connected with reasons 6 and 7 above, if your patients owe you money or are behind in their payments, their feelings of embarrassment or shame might be keeping them away.
How to keep them: Include financing options as a natural part of your initial treatment plan conversation, to avoid creating future collection problems. If delinquent patient accounts are burdening your practice, one of the best solutions is to send a #207 Collection Form. (It’s not called “The Magic Form” for nothing!)
4. Your patients feel unimportant or under-valued.
Abruptly putting phone calls on hold, acting rushed, running late without explanation or apology, treating patients like “the procedure in Room 2,” failing to notice or acknowledge a patient’s discomfort or pain, a cluttered reception area, or any number of other slights can make your patients feel unimportant or under-valued.
How to keep them: Treat every patient like the most important person in your practice – in every single interaction – from the first telephone call to the goodbye and thank you at the end of the appointment. If you don’t show your patients you value them, they will find a dentist who will.
3. Your patients move away.
When patients relocate, they might be willing to travel some distance to continue under your care, but don’t count on it.
How to keep them: The best defense for patient attrition is to actively promote your practice to newcomers in your area. Follow this link to see how easy it is to effortlessly advertise your services to new residents.
2. Your patient’s insurance company has changed, and you are not a preferred provider.
If your patient changes jobs, their insurance plan may change with them. And that change might mean you’re not “on the list.”
How to keep them: While you may be able to retain some of these patients for occasional elective procedures, there really isn’t much you can do to keep them under routine care. Keep them on your mailing list, stay in touch, and perhaps they will return one day.
1. Your patients are uncomfortable with your chairside manner.
By the time you enter the treatment room, the patient is usually lying back in the chair, bibbed, surrounded by instruments, and more than likely apprehensive, anxious, or downright scared about what’s to come. Failing to greet the patient by name with eye contact, a warm smile, and a reassuring word is just one example of the kind of chairside manner that can ultimately drive patients away.
How to keep them: A routine procedure for you might be terrifying for the human being sitting in your chair. Treat the human being first. Be kind. Be genuinely interested. Make sure the patient is physically comfortable. Adjust the light if necessary. Make your injections as painless as possible. . Offer breaks during long procedures. Don’t bark at, belittle, or have side conversations with team members. Express concern for your patient’s well-being.
Conduct your own research as to why you might be losing patients. Contact those you haven’t seen in a while and ask them if there’s anything in particular that’s keeping them away.
And if you’d like to make sure you’re doing all you can to keep a growing, loyal following of patients who are delighted with your care and happy to recommend you to others, contact me for a complimentary practice assessment.