It takes a lot of time, energy, and money to successfully generate new patients. After all, every local dental practice requires a steady influx of new patients to help maintain and grow their patient base. But considering how important new patients are to the success of a practice, you’d think that most dentists would be better able to keep those new patients for more than just one or two visits.
So how do you help improve your local dental practice’s retention rate? Simple, by improving the patient experience from the moment they first arrive in your office to when their treatment is done and it’s time to schedule their next appointment.
Surveys have found a direct correlation between patient satisfaction and referrals. When you do everything in your power to ensure a patient has an exceptional experience visiting your office, you not only increase the likelihood of a return visit, but you also increase the likelihood of the patient referring a friend or family member.
Here are a few ways you can help improve the patient experience to improve retention rates and boost patient referrals.
Make It Easy to Visit Your Office
As the saying goes, you only have one chance to make a good first impression. If you only have one chance to make the kind of impression necessary to convince a patient that you’re the dentist for her, you need to make sure that the first visit to your office is a pain-free experience.
Start by asking yourself a few basic questions from the patient’s perspective. Is your office easy to find? Is parking easily accessible near your office? If not, do patients need to park in specific areas? What documentation do patients need to bring with them during their first appointment? Are all necessary forms and questionnaires patients need to fill out in advance of their first appointment easily available online? How long can a patient expect their visit to take?
These are just a few of the many questions a first-time patient may have when visiting your office. To answer these and other questions, make sure to provide your patients with a FAQ sheet that provides them with the relevant answers. You can email your fact sheet to the patient and a link to all necessary documentation when confirming his appointment.
Make Your Patients Feel Welcome
In the minds of most patients, very little separates one dentist from another. If a patient believes she can receive the same level of service from another local dental practice, why should she consider scheduling another appointment with you? To separate yourself from the competition, you and your entire team need to make an effort to stand out by treating every patient like family.
When patients first arrive to check in, make sure your front office staff greets them with a smile, or better yet, by first name. Offer amenities in your waiting room like free Wi-Fi or coffee, tea, or water while they wait for their appointment. Provide basic oral hygiene products like toothbrushes, toothpaste, and floss free of charge to patients. These simple steps will help patients to feel welcome and let them know you generally care about their comfort.
Liven-Up Your Lobby
While it’s important to limit the amount of time patients need to spend in your waiting room, you should still make an effort to make those moments as enjoyable as possible.
Do patients have access to comfortable seating? Do they have something look at other than bare walls, like a painting or sculpture? Do they have reading material available to them that’s not either outdated magazines or promotional materials? If you treat kids, do you have kid-friendly games, puzzles, or reading material available to keep them entertained?
You’d be surprised at how offering a few quiet toys for a child to play with can make a parent feel as if you thought of them and their child. Or, how stocking your waiting room with current issues of magazines can help distract patients from how long they have to wait. By anticipating your patient’s needs you can successfully create a lively environment that helps distract from the monotony of waiting.
Pay Attention to Transition Areas Within Your Practice
Many practices forget that guiding patients from the reception area to the treatment room is also a chance to make a good first impression. Does your team member remember to smile and speaking cordially while escorting patients? Do they take the time to introduce the dental hygienist? Do patients have a place to put their bags or hang up their coats? Remember, a patient’s visit includes every moment he is in your office.
Be Friendly, but Don’t Be Pushy
While most patients will appreciate the friendly banter of a dental hygienists getting to know them, it’s easy to push it too far. It’s not comfortable to ask patients unnecessary questions while someone is working in their mouth. It’s not only difficult to answer, but it also makes it harder for patients to ignore the invasion into their personal space that occurs during exams and cleanings. Make the effort to establish a personal connection with patients, but don’t overdo it to where your patients start to feel annoyed.
Make the Time a Doctor Spends with the Patient Feel Important
Successfully protecting your patients’ oral health requires the combined efforts of your entire team. However, most patients consider the time spent with the dentist as a major factor in whether they are getting their money’s worth.
Do you take the time to have a conversation with the patient before starting her exam? Do you ask questions, listen to the answers, and provide an honest evaluation chairside? If you don’t know where to start when talking to a patient, consider having your team members leave personal notes about the patient in her file. This could make a strong starting point when getting to know the patient.
How ever you want to handle patient interaction, it is important make them feel like you’re not just simply jumping from one appointment to the next. Take the time to give the patient at hand your full attention and not simply treat her like just another number.
Make Patient Checkout Easy
The final touch and opportunity to leave a lasting impression with patients is during their checkout. Does a team member guide patients to the checkout area and inform them of what will happen next to avoid confusion? It’s easy to set expectations by saying something to the effect of “Our receptionist will take care of your checkout,” or “You’re ready to go!” Also encourage your staff to say things like “Feel free to grab a drink on your way out,” or “Do you need any toothpaste or a toothbrush before you go?”
If your patients need to discuss sensitive financial information, is that area sufficiently private? Finally, don’t forget to have your staff express their thanks to patients and tell them how much they’re looking forward to seeing them again. A handwritten note or post appointment phone call can all go a long way towards improving your patient retention rates.
When it comes to improving your patient retention rates and boosting referrals, the difference is really in the details. By working to establish an enjoyable patient experience from start to finish, you’re helping to make your local dental practice stand out from the competition.