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Inside Dentistry
May 2023
Volume 19, Issue 5

Patient Retention Is the Key to Maintaining a Healthy and Successful Practice

Ongoing communication efforts keep existing patients engaged and returning for treatment

Richard P. Gangwisch, DDS

Practices have a tendency to focus on attracting new patients. This is a worthwhile endeavor; however, while you are moving ahead, it's extremely important that you do not leave your existing patients behind in the dust. These patients are your best referral source. They are loyal and will return to you time and time again. They trust what you tell them, and they will have their dental treatments completed just as you recommend. Therefore, you should take steps to ensure that they are never forgotten.

Patient Communication

Patient retention starts with excellent communication. Nowadays, there are a myriad of ways to keep in touch with patients, including social media. Facebook can be a good starting point to keep patients apprised of events in your office. Encourage your patients to "like" your posts. You can even entice them with special drawings for prizes but remember to keep the number of posts reasonable so that your practice doesn't get overexposed. If a Facebook follower becomes annoyed by your posts, the "unlike" is a click away.

You've Got Mail

Email is a fantastic, cost-effective way to keep in touch with patients. Make sure that you get the email address of every patient who walks into your office. In this day and age, it's rare that a person does not have an email account. There are companies that specialize in bulk emails that can assist you. The cost per email is well below that of a postage stamp, not to mention you avoid the labor cost of stuffing envelopes.

You can send email blasts to your entire patient population to update them about your practice. But remember, just like with social media posts, don't overdo it. Email blasts can be used to inform patients about available treatments, special offers, and other subjects, such as the following:

• We've just added laser technology to our practice

• Wanted to make sure you were aware that we treat sleep apnea problems

• Your doctor just returned from a national cosmetic dentistry conference

• We have a special this month for $100 off porcelain veneers

• It's time for spring cleaning

• Like us on Facebook and enter our monthly drawing for great prizes

• Ask about our financing options to help make your dental treatment fit your budget

• Back to school: time to get your teeth checked

The bulk email approach can be a great way to deliver a quarterly newsletter. There are companies that, for a fee, can provide you with canned newsletters. Typically, they will leave space for you to add personalized material, and you should be sure to utilize it. This will make your newsletter more likely to be read by your patients. You can include a blurb about a particular staff member, write about a CE course that you took, or highlight a new or existing technology that you use.

Patient emails can also be sent to targeted lists. Modern practice management software will allow you to retrieve a list of patients who have unfinished treatment, annual insurance benefits remaining, or treatment planned that has not been started. For these types of emails, ensure that the company you are using is HIPAA-compliant in order to keep patient information confidential. Sending emails to acknowledge birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, and retirements is a perfect way to let patients know that you care. For birthdays, we attach a short, 1-minute video that features our staff to add a personal touch for the patient's special day.

Thinking of You

Just because there is email available doesn't mean that we should forget about sending cards. Sending a card adds a much more personal touch. Messages expressing sympathy are best sent by snail mail to let your patients know that you are thinking about them in their time of need. In addition, I keep a stack of blank thank-you cards on my desk. It doesn't take but a minute to scribble out something like, "Thank you for bringing in the cookies that you baked for the office." But for many patients, the fact that their doctor took the time out of his or her busy schedule to hand write a note goes a long way toward earning their loyalty.

Total Recall

Sometimes patients need a little help finding their way back into your office. This is where a good recall system comes in. In a perfect world, everyone would make their recall appointment before they leave and walk in the door 6 months later without so much as a confirmation call. However, because we all know that the world is less than perfect, we have to shoulder the burden ourselves. Before my patients leave the office after appointments, we have them hand address recall postcards to themselves. When they receive them in the mail, it's like a "note to self" for them to call the office. With the availability of email, I prefer to send out recall emails 6 weeks in advance and then send the postcards to those who did not respond with a month to spare. The savings in postage can really add up over a year's time.

We are all familiar with human nature. I can't tell you how many times that I have gotten a recall card from my eye doctor and told myself that I was going to call only to promptly forget after I put the card down. Therefore, 2 weeks out from patient appointments, a staff member needs to go down the recall list and call each unscheduled patient on the phone. It is labor intensive, but it works. Patients know that they are supposed to be coming in every 6 months, but many need a little prodding.

And then there are the patients who you haven't seen for a while. They need to be reactivated. When you've sent the emails and recall cards, left voice-mail messages, and done everything short of knocking on their door, and they still haven't responded, sometimes you have to add a little incentive into the mix, like offering a 10% discount on their next visit that is good for the next month. You could even send them a toothbrush and floss. Everyone loves to get freebies in the mail, so of course they are going to open the envelope.

Stay Connected

By maintaining contact with the patients in your present population, you not only keep them coming in for necessary and desired treatments but also keep your office's name on the tips of their tongues. This helps propagate word-of-mouth marketing and allows your practice to thrive with minimal effort.

About the Author

Richard P. Gangwisch, DDS, a master of the Academy of General Dentistry and a diplomate of the American Board of General Dentistry, is a clinical assistant professor at the Dental College of Georgia at Augusta University and practices in a Heartland Dental-supported office in Lilburn, Georgia.

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