Acquiring new patients is unquestionably a key part of dental practice growth. Yet in a competitive market, where dental competitors are equally vying for new patients, patient retention is just as important (if not more so) from a practice cost and revenue perspective.
What is Patient Retention?
Patient retention in dentistry is the ability to keep patients who visit your practice loyal to you.
While your goal is to help individuals, not encourage them to return for repeated treatments, dentists often encourage regular exams and treatments that require regular visits.
Patient retention is the percentage of your total patients that return for multiple visits. While this may be tough to quantify in some situations, it is an important indicator of how successful your practice is.
Why is Patient Retention so Important for Dentists?
When people keep coming back to your dental office, it is called patient retention. This is important because it means you are doing a good job. People who come back often are more likely to spend money on dental treatments. It can also help you save money because you will not have to spend as much on advertising and getting new patients.
Dental Patient Retention Statistics
Where sending out appointment reminders, oral health care tips, and other patient communications cost little to keep patients engaged and coming back to your practice:
- Dataman Group Direct found that dental practices spend $150-300 on average to acquire a new patient.
- According to Dental Economics, the cost to acquire a new dental patient averages $250-300.
- For businesses in general, Harvard Business Review recently wrote, â€śAcquiring a new customer is anywhere from five to 25 times more expensive than retaining an existing one.â€ť
The variations in numbers are naturally influenced by the scope of acquisition campaigns, different marketing costs, and time and labor (which have dollar value). Yet the overall picture supports what Patient News recently wrote: â€śRetaining existing patients is substantially less expensive than having to put in the effort to acquire new ones,â€ť and the investment into patient retention is worth the payoff.
Where the average dental practice loses around 17% of patients (each with a lifetime value to practices of $12,000-$15,000), research unsurprisingly shows that increasing retention rates by just 5% increases profits by 25%-95%.
9 Ideas to Improve Dental Patient Retention
Patient loyalty is key to establishing a profitable and thriving practice. To realize success for your practice, here are nine recommendations to increase patient loyalty and retention:
Make a Great First Impression
Despite the common belief that a patientâ€™s first impression is formed in your practice, their in-office visit may not actually be their first point of contact. When researching providers, many patients look at your website, social media profiles, mailers, and networking groups to formulate their first impression, so be sure you are representing yourself well across all channels, not just in your office.
Host a Patient Appreciation Event
Select one day each month or every other month as your Patient Appreciation Day. On this day, verbally thank each patient you see, and let them know how much you value their patronage. You could even present them with a small gift, such as a $5 or $10 gift card, depending on your budget. Each patient is not only likely to feel valued, but is also likely to recommend your services to their friends and family. Also, you can randomize the day each month to avoid patients catching on and scheduling their appointments according to your appreciation schedule.
Ensure Your Practice Website Serves Patients
Frank Lloyd Wrightâ€™s immortal phrase â€śform follows functionâ€ť directly applies to dental practice websites. Great-looking websites are certainly a powerful attractor for prospective patients. Yet for all patients, functional interactive features like online forms, patient online payments, and mobile-optimized websites with simplified navigation are what patients now want and expect from dental practices. So, providing them naturally helps increase patient retention while simultaneously saving time and improving efficiency for dental practice staff.
Make Your Patients Feel Important Year-Round
In order to make your patients feel like theyâ€™re part of your family, you have to treat them like family, even when they arenâ€™t in your physical presence.Â Send patients birthday cards and anniversary cards celebrating their patronage to your practice.Â Include a handwritten note with a meaningful message.
NEVER Be Late for a New Patient Appointment
If you have a patient who is visiting for the first or even second time, be sure you are punctual. Nothing is more likely to turn a new patient away than having a delayed appointment. When you know you have a new patient scheduled, do your best to stay ahead of the clock and avoid excessive waiting room times.
Offer a Complimentary Service to Your Loyal Patients
If you know a patient has a big upcoming event, such as a wedding or prom, and theyâ€™ve been your patient for years, offer them a complimentary service such as professional teeth whitening. This unexpected gesture will thrill patients and make them likely to refer your services to others.
Stay Connected to Patients on Social Media
Whether of a serious or entertaining nature, all activity on social media platforms is basically an online conversation between people, and the same principles that apply in real-life conversations equally apply on social media. The more you engage someone in a conversation, the more you tend to stay top of mind with that person. Additionally, daily social posts grow followers four times faster than posting once a week. So, post on a regular basis to help engage and retain patients, and if time is your only challenge, ProSites helps dental practices easily keep patients engaged with a social media management solution that manages your entire social media presence so you can focus on your practice. (Get your free demo here.)
Thank Patients for Their Appointment
If youâ€™ve ever received a thank-you card, call, or email after attending someoneâ€™s party or event, you know how much small things can matter. A small post-appointment note makes patients feel important and appreciated and will incline them to return. Thank you notes by email, of course, are common, and people enjoy them. Yet because of the commonality of emails, the uniqueness of a simple physical note like a postcard can feel extra special to patients, and theyâ€™re easy to send when your automated patient communication system includes postcards.
Communicate Clearly in a Manner That Patients Understand
Complex dental jargon tends to alienate patients. When patients canâ€™t understand a conversation, they tend not to want to continue conversations, which naturally impacts patient retention. This includes patient education content. When they donâ€™t understand content, they tend to disengage. For more on this, read Top Best Practices for Effective Patient Education Content.
People love deals, special offers, and other perks. So, consider implementing a rewards program for patients who remain loyal to your practice over a set number of years. Rewards can be free services such as teeth whitening or cleaning, but they donâ€™t have to be related to oral health care. Using your imagination and having fun with a rewards program can increase patient retention and provide additional benefits for your practice. If a patient shares news of their rewards on social media, for example, the free advertising effectively acts as a referral.
The common thread in all the above is communication. Having an effective communication plan is key to patient retention and thereby practice revenue growth.
Create an Effective Patient Retention Strategy
To help you with planning, download our free whitepaper Dental Patient Communication â€“ How to Keep More Patients with Less Work.
Download this whitepaper today to learn how to:
- Create an effective patient communication plan
- Identify which communication channels are best for specific occasions like birthdays, appointment reminders, and follow-up care instructions
- Weight the benefits and drawbacks of each communication channel (phone calls, texts, emails, postcards)
And more to help increase patient retention.
Hereâ€™s to your practice success.