Every dental practice wants to turn their new patient into lifelong patients.  Here are a few strategies to help you do just that. This is PART 2 of a 2 part series.  If you missed PART 1, you can read it here.

My jaw drops as he reveals the test results:

"40% of our new patients come once and then don't return again."

I'm waiting to go on stage.  The man speaking before me is a nationally recognized dentist and practice management speaker.  The guy has been teaching other dentists how to get and keep new patients for decades.  On top of that, he is also one of the owners of a respected group practice with over 100 locations.

But now he grimaces as he reveals that notwithstanding his knowledge, his experience, and his well-oiled corporate patient marketing machine, his organization is only able to retain 6 out of 10 patients for even 1 return visit.

Granted, every practice will experience some leakage.  After all, 20% of the U.S. population moves every year, plus, not every patient is a good fit for the way you practice dentistry.  But many of the patients who don't stick around should, right?

If your patients were asked to answer these classic questions, what would they say:

I chose my dentist because _____________."

I stay with my dentist because _____________."

I would argue that there are more reasons for patients to leave, and that it will become harder, not easier to retain patients than ever before.  

Here are a few reasons why: 

1. More Patients ARE Losing DENTAL Insurance

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A few years ago, Gallup reported that only 50% of the U.S. adult population has dental benefits.  As cost of health insurance increases, HR departments are looking to reducing dental benefits as a way to cut costs.  Patients who lose their dental benefits are at risk of leaving your practice. 

2. discount dental offers

While the Groupon craze and its ensuing flood of thousands of copycat daily deal companies has died down in the last 18 months, there will never be a shortage of dentists using discount marketing tactics to generate new patients.  Look at your email, mailbox, or windshield, and a “Cleaning and X-rays for $49” offer is never far away.   In the absence of loyalty, why shouldn’t a patient switch to a cheaper dentist?

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3. Trust Vacuum

“You never get a second chance at a first impression,” as the saying goes. Case acceptance, hygiene compliance, and referrals are all built on a foundation of trust.  Without trust, there is no loyalty. 

4. Bad Experience

When I tell people I work with dentists, it’s a little annoying how many people say, “Oh, I hate the dentist.”  Seriously?  Who else besides lawyers gets this kind of scorn?  What they are really saying is, “I’ve had a bad experience, and I avoid repeat performances when possible!”

5. MAJOR Life Events

Wedding rings in hands of the newly-married couple.

Big life changes can throw a wrench into loyalty.  Moving, obviously, but what about marriage?  When I was married, I convinced my wife to change to my dentist.  My loyalty level to my dentist beat out her loyalty to hers.  


Strategy 2: Prevent Patient Neglect. Do you have systems in place?

There are many "danger points" in the practice-patient relationship where you can lose a patient.  Be sure to have systems in place to prevent simple errors such as making sure their next appointment is scheduled or getting agreement on the treatment plan.

Unscheduled appointments are the most common way for a patient to forget about you.  Get them on the calendar and have someone personally follow up.

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Strategy 3: Why Should Your Patients Return?  They Need a Compelling Reason

My favorite explanation of “compelling” is the analogy put together by Dan Kennedy, a well known marketing consultant.  To paraphrase, “compelling” is like the car crash on the side of the road.  Even if it’s just a little fender bender, everyone driving past can’t help but slow down and rubberneck to see what’s going on. 

So a “compelling reason to return” has that kind of draw.   Some powerful reasons to return:

1. Whitening for Life.  

Woman Teeth Before and After Whitening. Oral Care

The concept was popularized by practice management consultant Wendy Briggs, who has developed a program to keep patients loyal by using continuous whitening as a reason to return. 

2. Caused-Based Marketing.

According to Entrepreneur magazine, “The number of consumers who said they would switch from one brand to another if the brand was associated with a good cause has climbed to 87 percent, a dramatic increase in recent years…”  The Smiles For Life campaign is another example of using whitening, this time in a caused-based campaign.  Patients receive discounted whitening, and with supplies donated by Phillips and chair time donated by the doctor, the proceeds are donated to national and local children’s charities.

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3. In-House Discount Plans.

Many patients have lost their dental insurance, or never had dental insurance to begin with.  One of our Dental Warranty client practices uses an in-house discount plan they have named the Mason Discount Plan.   By paying a low annual fee, patients pre-pay for two cleanings, and they pay less than full fee on other restorative and cosmetic procedures. 

4. DOCTOR-PATIENT Alignment on Treatment Plans.

With treatment acceptance rates at only 30% in even well-run practices, one major hurdle to loyalty is a misalignment (we could call it malocclusion?) between doctor recommendations and patient desires.  Many documentaries have condemned dentistry for the fact that a patient shopping around might get treatment plans ranging from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars. Each patient’s goals are unique.  Some simply want to get out of pain.  Others are focused on prevention.  Still others are focused on achieving a perfect looking smile, and those on the forefront of health are turning their attention to how oral health plays into the bigger “whole health” picture.  Without understanding the patient’s past, present, and desired future, a treatment plan that doesn’t meet their needs and wants is all too likely. 

5. Warranty or Protection Plan.

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We work with many offices across the USA who use a formal warranty or protection plan to drive patient loyalty.  The industry rule of thumb is that consumers who have a written warranty are 25% more likely to return.  For example, on a 5-Year Dental Warranty, the patient will learn that in order to keep their coverage active, they must return for their continuing care visits every 6 months (of course the coverage is nationwide, so they won’t lose the benefit if they move).  That’s a commitment for at least 10 return visits. 

Patients Have Lots of Reasons Not To Return.  
What Extra Reasons TO Return Are You Creating?

In summary, there are plenty of reasons for a patient to stop going to the dentist, or to change dentists. 

So now we end where we started.  If your patients were asked to answer these classic questions, what would they say:

“I chose my dentist because ____________________.”

“I stay with my dentist because _______________________________.”

All the best to you as you seek to provide clinical care to your patients and grow your practice.  We would love to help you do just that by increasing the peace-of-mind factor in your office.  

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