It’s a situation most dentists can unfortunately relate to: a patient who has been coming to you for years calls to cancel their upcoming appointment or doesn’t show up for it at all.
At first you think it’s just a scheduling issue, but then you find out they’ve transferred to another dentist a few blocks away. Clearly they didn’t move out of the city and they obviously still need care – so what happened?
Why, after years of coming to your dental clinic, did they decide to switch? Many of the dentists I talk to can’t help but admit that they often feel hurt in these situations. While that feeling is natural, the reason usually is not personal.
Patients come to your practice for the service you provide so instead of wondering what is wrong with you, it’s better to treat it as a learning experience that can help you improve the level of care you offer.
Why do Patients Leave?
If you want to improve patient retention, you need to understand why patients decide to switch service providers in the first place. While you can’t control all the factors that lead a patient to leave, you can make it easier for them to stay.
Here are the top reasons, according to one leading industry magazine, why patients leave dental service providers:
- Bad experiences at the front desk
- Long wait times
- Difficulties getting timely appointments or changing appointments
- Insurance problems
- Perception of unnecessary discomfort during care
From my own experience, and from the experience of dental professionals I work with, I would add a few others:
- Concerns over prices
- Outdated methods of patient communication
- Perception the practice is not “modern” and keeping up with the latest technologies
- Better service available elsewhere
Switching healthcare providers is not very convenient, which is why people generally only do it if they are legitimately unhappy with the service they’ve experienced.
The good news is that there are strategies clinics can employ to keep their patients, such as investing in better dental software or making the patient experience more enjoyable. If you want to improve patient retention here are four things you should start doing immediately:
1. Hire A Secret Shopper
A lot of work is involved in setting up your own practice and once things are running smoothly it can be easy to fall into routines. While routines are not bad in and of themselves (in fact can be very useful in the workplace!) routines can make it easy to become complacent. And, when you spend every day working in your clinic it can be difficult to know how a patient seeing it for the first time experiences it.
One way to get a first-time patient’s honest take is by hiring someone to act as a patient and then report on their experience at your clinic. This can help you see your clinic through fresh eyes and give you an opportunity to learn what kind of treatment your patients are getting from your receptionists and hygienists.
2. Get Patient Feedback – And Act On It
There are lots of tools that can help you get feedback from your patients about how your clinic is doing but none of it is worth much if you aren’t able to act on it.
While dentists and healthcare service providers around the world are investing lots of resources in getting customer feedback, implementing the insights that feedback provides is often significantly more difficult.
Listening to what patients tell you is one of the most essential aspects of improving care. For example, if they say:
- “Your fees seem high” – work on improving your value proposition
- “My appointments never start on time” – implement scheduling time management protocols
- “Your hours are not convenient for my schedule” – offer extended hours where possible
- “You don’t offer all the services I’m looking for” – consider upgrading your skills to provide desirable additional services and develop trusted referral sources for work beyond your scope
3. Manage Your Reputation
It’s easy to imagine that reputation management only matters for bringing in new patients. Yet the truth is that a patient’s view of the care they receive can be shaped by the views they are exposed to.
If you heard someone complaining about the food they ate at a restaurant you frequent wouldn’t it make you think twice about your own experience?
Being intentional about how your brand is perceived online can also help with patient retention, which is why you should consider making dental reputation management software part of your patient retention strategy asap.
Because reputation is something that you can mold over time, you can expect quantifiable results that will actively grow and improve your business so long as you’re willing to put in a little time and effort.
There are numerous benefits to maintaining a solid online reputation, but here are the ones I think are the most valuable:
- Higher trust – People’s trust in a brand rises alongside its reputation.
- Increased profits – Companies with better ratings and reviews get more business.
- Better talent – Brands that boast a positive reputation will ultimately attract better employees.
- Less risk – People move with crowds and reputation management is a way to attract that crowd.
4. Know Your Competition
In the healthcare industry we don’t often like to think of ourselves as being in competition with each other. But the reality is that when patients have options for care, they will inevitably compare your dental practice to others.
Knowing which dental clinics are in your area and how your service stacks up to theirs is essential if you are to stay competitive, so do your research and find out where your practice is falling behind other clinics in your area.
Losing patients can certainly be a demoralizing experience. Rather than taking it personally, it’s wise to treat it as an opportunity to figure out what you can do to minimize this type of setback in the future!