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September 2022
Volume 43, Issue 8

Keys to Patient Retention, a Necessity for Practice Growth

Carrie Webber

Dental practice owners can easily become consumed with the need to constantly bring more and more new patients through the doors to grow their practice. Yet, many business experts and coaches say it is easier to grow from within than it is to generate perpetual interest from outside the practice. When considering growing their patient base, practice owners need to ask, "How well are we retaining the patients we already have?"

There are three key areas practice owners should concentrate on to help ensure overall patient retention: patient education, scheduling, and hygiene retention.

Effective Patient Education.When dental team members interact with patients, they should communicate clearly and build value in the patient's relationship with the practice and in their appointments. Repetition is the key to learning, and it may take repeating information three to five times for a patient to fully retain what is being said, including the value of and what to expect at the next appointment. Be clear as to why the patient's tooth needs to be restored at this time, for example. The practice should have various outlets to stay in communication with its patients, efficient systems for checking patients out and scheduling them for appointments, and skilled team members capable of corroborating the value, need, and importance of the patient's continued relationship with the practice.

Effective utilization of patient communication software for not only appointment confirmations but also continuous patient contact and education through newsletters and so on, can help patients better connect with and more firmly commit to the practice. Maximize the systems and software that already exist in the practice to help build this foundation with your patients.

Intentional communication needs to take place throughout the patient's entire journey with the practice: from when an appointment is scheduled and confirmed to when the patient is re-appointed and goes through patient check-out. The goal as a team is to repeatedly build what the author's firm calls the "four pillars of a patient-practice partnership" through communication skills and patient experience. These four pillars are trust, need, urgency, and value. If these pillars are not established with patients, the practice risks patients not honoring the appointments it reserves for them. It is up to the practice to build these foundational pillars with every interaction every team member has with the patient. Verbal skills are crucial.

Efficient Scheduling. A patient should not leave the practice without having their next appointment scheduled. This is vital to building stronger patient retention. "I'll call you" is a dangerous comment from any patient! Create processes and hone verbal skills and systems that help every team member do more within their role through patient communication and scheduling to keep patients active and aware of the importance of their appointments. One effective way to do this is through keeping them scheduled for their next continuous care appointment with the hygiene team, which leads to the third key area: developing a consistent hygiene retention program.

Consistent Hygiene Retention Program. A team member should be identified to "lead the charge" when it comes to hygiene retention. Past-due patients should be reached out to by email, text, and phone to schedule them, and the team should also be diligent at scheduling appointments while patients are present at their current hygiene appointment. Such persistent and consistent scheduling should become habitual, helping to ensure that most of the practice's patient family is coming through the doors on a regular basis. It is through committed patients that a practice creates a strong patient-base foundation, and, moreover, these patients will be your advocates outside of the practice, providing positive referrals to friends and family members. This is a healthy way for a practice to grow and a proven approach to keeping more of your patients in the practice for years to come.

The practice's pre-appointing and confirmation processes may need to be re-examined periodically. If broken appointments and no-shows with pre-appointed patients are frequently occurring, it may be that what was working for the practice in the past with regard to confirmations is not working now, and adjustments may be needed. A team can be created that proactively focuses on strengthening your patients' commitments to their appointments. Elevated verbal skills, strategic patient check-outs, follow-up, and confirmations all play key roles in helping patients see and appreciate the value of their commitments to your practice.

Retention is the key to healthy growth, and through effective communication and consistent processes and systems a dental practice will begin to see the fruits of its labor. Ideal patients are those who come, pay, stay, and invite others to join your patient family. Patient retention cannot be taken for granted. It must be given the attention it deserves, and your practice will reap the rewards of work well done.

About the Author

Carrie Webber
Owner and Chief Communications Officer,
The Jameson Group (, a dental management, marketing, and hygiene coaching firm

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