The dynamics of the healthcare market are shifting. The days of delivering routine dental care and relying on new patient volume to generate a profit are fading. Taking their place is an era in which Key Practice Indicators (KPI) are “accountability” in which providers must leverage communication, technology and data in a meaningful way to deliver value-based dental care focused on prevention, preserving health/wellness and preventing attrition.
In addition, patients are taking a more consumer-oriented approach to their dental healthcare, which means the future growth and success of dental support organizations (DSOs) will increasingly depend on the quality of the overall patient experience. Patients now expect an exceptional care experience from the moment they first contact a provider all the way through follow-up and beyond. This requires the ability to engage patients not just “as needed” during care delivery, but on a continual basis.
Keeping patients engaged and loyal to a practice or group practice is vitally important to long-term financial viability. The significance of patient communication in reaching this goal cannot be overstated. It extends far beyond the fact that it costs almost 90% less to get current patients to return for future care than it does to attract new patients. The real value of a solid communication effort comes from the ability to deliver a quality patient experience that alleviates lost revenue because of patient attrition, open treatment plans, and potentially bad reviews.
When onboarding new offices, I always begin by asking this question:
“What are the top 3 KPIs you track when assessing the health of your practice?”
Nine out of ten times the answer is usually the same. Total visits, Missed visit percentage (Cancels and No-Shows), and New Patients. Although these are important metrics, and even slight changes in any of the above can cause significant movement in the business’ bottom line. One metric we don’t hear about that often, however, is Patient Retention Rate. Over the course of my career, I have admittedly become a bit obsessed with patient retention.
Types of Patient Retention
There are two forms of patient retention, Course of Care Retention, and Office Retention. Course of Care Retention Rate is the percentage of authorized visits a patient attends that the office is able to bill for. If it is 100% for any given patient, your dental team has done an excellent job establishing your office’s value proposition, and that patient has clearly bought in to the services you provide. A low retention rate however, is indicative of a patient who did not see the value of the provided services, and is likely responsible for driving up your cancel and no-show percentage, driving down total visits at your clinic, and ultimately having a negative effect on profits. Obtaining a handle on your Course of Care Retention Rate can offer a much more actionable metric than just cancels and no-shows alone.
Office Retention Rate is equally valuable. This metric looks at the percentage of your patients that return to your office for a new course of care. While this can be a bit more difficult to track, a high office retention rate is an easy way to quickly survey the reputation your office has among your patients. These patients are often “walking billboards” for your office, so knowing who they are and how they came to become a retained patient is crucial for repeating the process.
With the changes in the dental market today, it is more important than ever to treat your patients well and REALLY earn their business. Ideally, you want your good patients to return and to refer or to suggest you to their friends and family when someone is in need of a brilliant and caring dentist or physician. This involves something that many practices have forgotten all together: customer service.
This utopian level of service begins with your marketing efforts and extends through the first phone call to the check-in, clinical staff interaction, check-out, payment, and follow-up. Here are a few strategies to improve patient retention:
Marketing. It’s impossible to retain patients that you don’t have. Put your best foot forward and ensure your marketing is authentic and useful, to be effective, your message must be more than simply promotional. Your goal should be to position office(s) as a resource in the community, and to cultivate an ever-growing fan base around your practice. The more patients you reach, the more people you have the opportunity to serve. After all, when a person successfully searches online for a practice, it results in a phone call almost 70 percent of the time.
Telephone. When a patient calls to schedule an appointment, it is always best to have a real friendly person answer the phone with a smile. I personally prefer the use of a dedicated resource such as a call center. The fastest way to send a potential patient back to Google or Apple maps is to make them leave a message and wait for a return call for something as simple as scheduling an appointment.
Check-in & Waiting. Be sure to greet everyone arriving in your office with an open-ended question, such as “Hi, how may I help you?” Avoid directing them to “sign in and sit down” or “name?” It is also a good idea to make certain that the receptionist wait for the patient to respond fully before directing them to “hand over this” and “fill out that.” Take the time to answer patient questions, so that they need to come to the reception desk as few times as possible and start off on the right foot.
Practitioner interaction. When the patient is called back to the exam room, always be certain to address them as Ms. or Mr. and their last name, and always make eye contact. These small personal touches can put patients at ease. Doctors and Hygienists should also seek to build rapport with the patient, optimize communication, and remember to be present during the conversation. After all, it is important to treat the whole patient — not just the ailment.
Listen! Listening with your ears, eyes and body language is paramount to a patient who has needs, wants and is looking for an exceptional experience.
Follow-up. Following up with your patients after their visit is critical. This can often times be achieved with a simple outbound call to assess how your patient is feeling and what they thought about your office. Reaching out via phone roughly three days after a visit to see how the patient is feeling can often change a mediocre in-office experience into a positive overall experience. You may also let them know to expect a follow-up e-mail in which you can ask how your office did overall giving them a voice to express any areas in which you can improve.
Attrition can be a VERY expensive problem, and the most important thing to remember about your patients is that they are consumers with multiple provider choices. Regardless of your “new patient count” per month, you simply cannot outsell attrition. Ensuring that your practice and corporate culture are truly patient-centric and consistent from marketing to follow up will help ensure both a happy patient base, AND a healthy bottom line.