Patient Retention: What’s it worth to you?

In any industry, repeat business is a fundamental game-changer. Loyalty has a price tag. In a dental practice it looks something like this:

I have a toothache and come in to your office for a first appointment. Let’s say it costs $200 to treat. You fix my immediate problem – thank you very much – and I’m on my way. I’m in a hurry so I’ll call you to book my next visit… if I think about it.

Or, I could schedule a follow-up exam, after which I receive a comprehensive treatment plan with options and an explanation of the benefits of ongoing care. I then make an appointment for my husband who has also slipped into an irregular pattern of treatment. Then appointments for my 2 children. We all follow a 6-month check-up cycle for 5 years, with a filling or two along the way and discretionary services such as teeth whitening or sports mouth guards.

I’ve gone from one-time revenue of a few hundred dollars to around $10,000, and that’s before any crowns, bridges, orthodontics, implants, and other high-value treatments that we might need.

Think of it another way – how much does it cost your practice to retain an existing patient? For most, the cost to get them into your waiting room is the time it takes to make a phone call – or better, an automated email or text message. Even less if a patient books before they leave or calls you for their regular checkups.

Now consider marketing initiatives for new patients: there is a lot of strategy-planning-execution time and expense to take into account. The ROI can make it a no-brainer, when done well, but it’s still an expense. I’ll talk more about marketing for new patients in a future post.

A team focus on patient retention is simply smart business. Now I’m not saying that we should regard every patient as if they had a dollar sign etched on their forehead, but it’s a fact: The more loyal a patient is to your practice, the more valuable they become to your business. So what’s the secret to patient retention?

If I had to boil it down to one thing, clinical expertise aside, I would paraphrase one of my favourite poets, the late Maya Angelou:

People may not remember exactly what you said; they may forget what you did. But they will always remember how you made them feel.

  • Do your patients feel welcome, respected?
  • Are they attended to promptly, and in a friendly way?
  • Are parents with babies and toddlers given TLC – and maybe a bit of a break?
  • Is your environment calm?
  • Does the team exude confidence and control?
  • Are they discreet with patient information and discussions?
  • Is the team patient when answering questions or dealing with anxiety?
  • Do you communicate with your patients off-cycle through patient portal, emails and/or social media?

On the surface, these things may seem superficial and, well, even obvious. But the busier we get, the more likely we are to bypass the small niceties. With time, patients will forget the needles and the drilling, but we will remember the little things like being recognized, perceiving VIP treatment and personal attention and being treated like a valued customer.

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