How many dental patients do you have in your practice and how many new patients do you see on average each month? Naturally, the answers to these questions on patient retention are going to vary from practice to practice, but for the sake of the discussion I'm about to outline here, let's go with some average numbers.
In encountering countless dentists at Spear over the years, we most often hear about a patient base of about 1,500. And dentists who say this also tend to say they get an average of 15 to 20 new patients a month.
What's interesting is that in most cases if you ask one of these dentists the same questions a few years later, you're likely to get the same estimates: about 1,500 patients, and about 15-20 new patients a month.
You don't have to be a mathematician to see the problem here. If these practices are getting the same flow of new patients, and their patient base is remaining the same, and they are not adding hygiene days, there can be only one conclusion: whether they realize it or not, for every new patient arriving in the practice, another one is leaving. These practices are treading water.
Now a lot of dentists in this situation would say that this can't be possible – that they would know if they were losing that many patients every month. But that's because they are thinking of the patients whom they know have left the practice, such as the ones who moved or died.
But the thing is, most patients don't announce that they are leaving; in most cases, they simply drift away. For instance, in busy practices, it's not uncommon for the hygiene schedule to be almost full, and that can make it difficult for patients to get the timely care they need. When someone who is supposed to be on a six-month recall cycle ends up getting booked out to eight or nine months, or even a year, they begin to question whether regular and consistent hygiene care really is a priority. This can create a huge unspoken issue where the patient's confidence in the practice's credibility is severely undermined by the lack of commitment they see on the part of the practice.
So these patients keep silently disappearing. And the team isn't noticing – not because they are neglectful, but because they are busy, and the hygiene schedule is filled, so there is no apparent urgent issue that they can see.
It's hidden gaps like these that undermine retention and cause practice growth to stagnate. The only way to uncover them is to consistently track your retention performance. And the only way to reverse the trend is to be relentless about driving specific retention strategies – strategies such as a firm policy of pre-appointing and a consistent plan for getting overdue patients back on track.
(Click this link to read more dental practice management articles by Imtiaz Manji.)