It has been reported that the normal attrition rate for dental practices is one of the highest in health care—over 20%.1 Some attrition is obviously natural—patients leave a practice due to job changes, moves, and other life-changing events. In other instances, and more commonly, patients leave due to an unsatisfactory experience with the dentist or dentist’s team. In this scenario, the bad experience is often cost-related. If pricing is not transparent, patients can become frustrated if they don’t understand why and what they’re being charged.

Regardless of the reason, it should be a wake-up call that patient retention is a critical component of your practice’s success, and in many cases, is more important than acquiring new patients. Most dentists we talk to are so focused on getting new patients that they’re oblivious to the number of patients who are flooding out the back door. In today’s dental climate, it is critical for practice owners and teams to put their efforts toward getting more value from current patients, delivering positive care experiences, and providing more dental care choices.

Acquiring new patients is costly in comparison to retaining and upselling services to current patients. PatientNews reports the cost to acquire a new patient is between $250 and $300.2 The lesson to be learned here is that practices should be focusing on investing in their existing patients first. Here are five tips to help nurture existing patient relationships so your practice can bypass attracting new ones.

Be patient-centric and provide remarkable customer service

According to a study from the American Journal of Managed Care, patient dissatisfaction and long wait times both have a negative effect on provider perceptions and quality of care.3 Also, 96% of customer complaints are related to customer service, not patient health care.4 So, if you want your practice to be truly patient-centric, each and every patient’s dental care must be a top priority, in and out of the office. This means wowing patients in a number of ways, including emotionally, professionally, and medically.

For instance, all patient experiences with you and your team before and after their visits matter. A reminder message prior to an appointment that includes instructions may help put patients at ease. A short survey following a visit will help you gain insight into what your practice can improve. Training your front desk team to carefully listen to patients’ concerns during check-in or adding a patient relationship manager can help ensure all of your patients feel the love.

Takeaway:Being patient-centric means making it easy and convenient for patients to visit and interact with you. Discover new ways to differentiate your practice and add greater patient benefits.

Communicate with your patients often

Keep your practice top-of-mind by making it a priority to communicate with patients regularly via all of their favorite channels. By providing education and information to your patient base, you can nurture existing patient relationships and build loyalty. Whether the news is big or small, you should drive your agenda by constantly issuing new information about your practice.

New information is relevant because it makes patients feel included and proud to be with your practice. Engaging them regularly can be accomplished easily through a number of channels—via your website or newsletter, or through personalized text messages, emails, and direct mailers. Remember, the ultimate goal is to build a sense of community so that patients feel good about being part of your practice.

Takeaway: By positioning your practice as an integral part of patients’ lives, you will create loyalty, encourage regular visits, and increase referrals.

Make each experience with your practice better than the last

Use real patient experiences to refine and better your practice. As a starting point, your team’s mission should be to make each patient experience informative, safe, and comfortable. Each touchpoint throughout the patient journey will involve different members on your team, from the front desk person to the hygienist, and later, the dentist. All of these team members should be in sync regarding a patient’s treatment history. If the team is in sync, patients will feel more comfortable and continue to be loyal. Patient feedback through practice surveys and polls will help you perfect your systems. Ask patients what the practice could be doing differently, and what their favorite aspects of the practice are. This is a great opportunity to identify areas that could use some improvement.

Takeaway: Encourage your entire team to create new ways to boost patient experiences. Each patient has specific needs to be met, so focus on the individual first.

Make patients feel well-served and positive about their experiences

The ultimate goal is to create happy, healthy, and loyal patients. Patients who feel a personal connection with your practice are your champions. They’re more likely to rave about the wonderful experiences they’ve had with your team, as well as your unparalleled expertise. They are the audience who will spread the word about you, write positive online reviews, and help boost your reputation. They’re invaluable. Remember, word-of-mouth promotions are absolutely free.

Takeaway: Well-served and happy patients make the best patients because they will return to your practice and bring their family and friends.

Keep your patients on a schedule for regular preventive care visits and treatment

One of the most important aspects of running a successful practice is to keep the appointment schedule full. As a rule of thumb, keeping an equal balance of regular hygiene appointment checkups and treatment procedures is essential. A great option to increase production is to offer direct coverage for your uninsured patients in the form of a membership plan. Research shows uninsured patients are not compliant with regular preventive care visits or treatment acceptance. They complete only 30%–50% of recall procedures and 40%–60% of the total procedures of insured patients.5

Membership plans have the power to keep the appointment schedule full because patients want to get their money’s worth and use the plan for preventive care, cleanings, and other treatments that are covered. Practices keep all subscription fees and 100% of the procedure revenue, making patients wth membership plans two to three times more valuable than both uninsured and insured patients.5

Takeaway: Offering your existing uninsured patients a membership plan will generate significant revenue for your practice while improving patient loyalty and retention.

Historically, dentists have placed a heavy emphasis on patient acquisition efforts, but this is an endless and costly grind. Instead, they should focus on retaining existing patients and deriving more value directly from them. They should treat all patients with white-glove service and become part of their lives by adding a subscription-based dental membership plan. They’ll see a far greater return than just constantly chasing after that elusive species known as the “new patient.”

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