10 Reasons Why Your Dental Patient Retention Numbers Are Low (and How to Fix Them)

Spoiler alert: your dental software should help in avoiding why your dental patient retention numbers are low.

Do you know what your cost of acquisition is – ie. How much it costs your dental practice to acquire a new patient?

Even if you haven’t crunched those numbers yet, rest assured the cost of marketing to snag new patients is a whole lot higher than the cost of retaining existing ones.

If you’re losing patients, you might not be able to put your finger on what is going wrong, much less how to fix the problem.

Read on for 10 clues as to why your dental patient retention is low and why they aren’t staying, and what to do about it.

  1. Your recall system isn’t running smoothly. If you aren’t getting people to schedule their next appointment before they leave your office, or at least securing their commitment to return at a time scheduled by your receptionist, and then following up, you are not capturing the repeat business that should occur automatically.
  2. Cost is prohibitive. Sally McKenzie of McKenzie Dental Management Solutions cautions in her blog that finances are a big issue for many; if patients get sticker shock, they’ll either go elsewhere in search of elusive bargains or just postpone treatment indefinitely. The key here is to educate patients about the necessity of these procedures, start slowly, and make payment less intimidating with convenient instalment plans and in-house financing.
  3. You’re making it hard. How easy is it for someone to keep an appointment with you? Do you keep bankers’ hours, or is your clinic open on weekends and later into the evening to accommodate busy schedules? Consider offering flexible hours and free childcare, increasing the number of parking spaces available to patients, or offering a waiting room guarantee that they’ll be seen within a half hour of arrival.
  4. Your front of the house isn’t patient centred. Do you have a welcoming office with a TV screen, comfy chairs and magazines, and kids’ toys? Or is it a rather sterile environment with hard-backed chairs and grating or bland colours? Make the space as inviting as possible by putting yourself in the mind of a patient.
  5. Staff aren’t connecting. Patients have to not only trust you but also like your personality – whether it’s their first visit or their tenth. After all, since many procedures cause actual physical pain, you need to be on point to counteract the negative perception that may cloud every visit to the dentist. Patients can easily visit the competition if you don’t make time to smile, ask them about their family, discuss their treatment options in depth, and generally strike up a rapport. This goes for every staff member your patients come into contact with.
  6. Lack of dedicated retention programs. A 2011 analysis of patient characteristics that could influence retention vs. defection rates, published in the Journal of Dental Education, recommended dedicated retention programs such as those established by grocery stores and credit cards – essentially a loyalty program for dental offices – to combat the many forces that conspire to pull patients away from dental practices.
  7. Lack of insurance. In the abovementioned study, financial problems, which constituted one of the most significant barriers to retention, was mitigated by the purchase of insurance to defray the cost of dental care. Have brochures and information handy and encourage the growing number of patients without insurance (due to the changing job economy and the rise of contract, entrepreneurial and part-time jobs) to seek private insurance.
  8. Low patient engagement. How involved is the patient with his or her care? Continuously educating patients, giving them instructions and tools for at-home oral care, discussing the importance of regular checkups, allowing them access to their charts and other important information through your practice management software, and generally helping them take responsibility for their role in the relationship, will increase retention rates.
  9. Patient age. Age is a significant driver of retention; older patients have lower dropout rates, in theory, because they value relationship more. This indicates the market that dental clinics should target in their advertising and marketing spend – and once in the door, it’s essential that the clinic be able to accommodate the needs of such patients.
  10. Patient communication: This is essentially the key to dental patient retention. Do you have updated contact information for all your patients – and, do you use that information? Dental practice management software platforms, like DentoNovo, make it easy to keep in touch with patients via email and text messages. Doesn’t it make sense to have a single integrated system that allows you to easily confirm or remind patients about upcoming appointments?

Integrating these points can help boost your dental patient retention numbers and really change your practice for the better.

Not sure where to start?

If sheer overwhelm, usually stemming from understaffing, is preventing you from using your PMS to the fullest, contact us for a free demo on how simple it is to use all the client-retaining features of DentoNovo.


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