A participant on one of the Spear Talk forum threads brought up a question that I think is worth addressing here. He noted that I often refer to “active patients” in my talks and he was wondering what exactly my definition of an active patient is.

active dental patient

It’s a definition I have revised over the years as circumstances in the world of dentistry and beyond have changed. My current position is that a patient must have visited the practice in the hygiene department at least once within the last 18 months to be considered active.

From a leadership perspective, a patient should be appointed within a maximum of 60 days of their due date, which is a true measure of your effectiveness. Any patient who hasn’t been in the hygiene department or the practice for 18 to 24 months is in the danger zone where their status is questionable. They may eventually come back (maybe they are having economic issues) or you may never see them again. After two years without an appearance, they definitely cannot be considered active.

That’s the short answer. But of course any time we have a discussion about active patients, there is a greater question implied: How do you keep those active patients active? It’s an important question because the people who come through your hygiene department represent your reservoir of future production.

Retention in hygiene really comes down to short-term, medium-term, and long-term. Over the long-term you will inevitably lose some patients because of things like people moving away (although as I wrote about in a previous article, that shouldn’t always be a deal-breaker). In the short term and medium term, however, there are strategies you can adopt to keep your active numbers up.

I’ll get into more about those strategies in future articles. For now, let me just say that the key to retention will always be demonstrating value. One way to do that is to go beyond the usual and expected. This means every second visit or so should be an expanded appointment, where you do a comprehensive re-evaluation of the patient's oral health condition.

As you know, a lot can change in someone’s mouth over the course of a year. But beyond that, a patient's sense of value needs to be replenished and reinforced regularly and you can’t accomplish that just by doing quick hygiene checks. They need to feel the full measure of your attention at least once a year to remind them of why they want to stay with your practice.

Yes, this does create some challenges with scheduling and managing the doctor’s time, but in my opinion it’s worth it because that consistent “booster shot” of value appreciation is the best way to keep active patients active.

(Click this link to read more dental practice management articles by Imtiaz Manji.)


Commenter's Profile Image Barry Polansky
November 21st, 2013
Imitiaz-- at some level we are in the human behavior/motivation business. The very best of us motivate patients to be better...to make changes. We influence, which is the essence of leadership. In that regard we share responsibilities with physicians, teachers and personal trainers. In order to "stay active," patients need to create habits-- liking flossing and maintaining health. Everyone in the practice is an example of what we want our patients to become---"leaders." Aristotle said it best 2500 years ago: We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. Aristotle
Commenter's Profile Image Arnie Mirza
November 22nd, 2013
Imtiaz, always you provide us with great advice through your great articles. Thank you.