Free article: Dental patient satisfaction and retention

Published: Wednesday, 04 December 2013

Shilla Tallati shares her experience of how to keep customers returning again and again.

Summary

  • The first experience a potential patient has with your dental practice will have a lasting effect on them.
  • Patients are all individual people and no two will be exactly the same in the way they want to be treated or the way they value your practice.
  • Practices should consider whether the patient’s journey through their treatment is a pleasant experience.
  • Patients will continue to pay
  • for a service if they feel they
  • are receiving sufficient value from it.
  • The best way to communicate with your patients is to keep it in a format they like, ensuring that it is brief and contains the information they want.
  • A short survey or patient feedback could be conducted to understand why patients leave.
  • The best way to keep existing patients is to make sure they are satisfied with the service they receive.

Think about a favourite restaurant or store that you like going to regularly. Or a doctor that you will never stray from. What keeps you going back? It may be the way they treat you, or the quality of the service they provide for you, or even how you are treated in between your visits. It is the same for dental practices. This is important, as in general dental practices thrive by acquiring new patients and retaining current ones.

So how do we do this? Here are a few pointers which may help.

The first impression

The first experience a potential patient has with your dental practice will have a lasting effect on them. When a patient calls your practice, comes for their first visit or receives their first follow up call, how special do you and your team make them feel? For example:

  • Do they feel relaxed and welcomed by all team members?
  • Are their anxieties addressed and do they feel comfortable enough to approach your practice with confidence?
  • Do they look at your practice and see a relaxing waiting room which is neat
  • and tidy?
  • Is information displayed easily for the patients?

These are a few issues that you should address with your team. Make sure you know exactly how a patient may feel on their first contact with your practice. And that every patient is treated so that you achieve the same result every time: a satisfied patient!

Treat patients as individuals

Patients are all individual people and no two will be exactly the same in the way they want to be treated or the way they value your practice. Some personality types value the relationships and want to feel deeply appreciated and known on a personal level. Some are very business focused and just want the bottom line in terms of cost and time. Others want to be comfortable and want to avoid pain so their anxiety levels need to be addressed. Others may want to be involved in discussions and like to be told everything and have everything explained to them; they may require more time in making decisions.

A short survey beforehand or a chat between the nurse and the new patients may help to find out what makes them tick and which approach may be better for them. How well is your practice team trained in dealing with different personality types?

The patient’s journey

Practices should consider whether the patient’s journey through their treatment is a pleasant experience. For example:

  • Does the patient experience a similar journey every time they attend your practice?
  • Does the receptionist answer the phone in a responsive and eager way?
  • Do the reception staff offer information and is their body language acceptable to the patient?
  • Does the team address the patient’s personal needs? Are the nurses compassionate and calming or do they ignore patients and make them feel unwelcome?

All points of contact – telephone manners, reception staff, nurses, dentists, hygienists, recalls, follow ups, newsletters, etc. – are important steps on the patient’s journey through your practice; in order to hold on to your patients, practice staff should ensure that patients feel welcome and as comfortable as possible during their visit.

Remember, the more a patient is happy with your services, the more they are likely to tell others and indeed refer other patients to you; hence providing a good service not only retains your current patients who are satisfied but also encourages new ones.

What are you worth?

When we go to a good restaurant, most of us don't mind paying for good quality food. Why is that? Because we see the value in what we are paying for. It is the same principle for dental practices. Patients will continue to pay for a service if they feel they are receiving sufficient value from it.

What is your practice’s unique value? What are your patients really buying from you? And why are they choosing you and no-body else? By answering these questions you will be able to come up with your practice’s value proposition, and this in turn must be conveyed to your team members, who should convey it to your patients at every possible opportunity.

Keep communication simple yet effective

The best way to communicate with your patients is to keep it in a format they like, ensuring that it is brief and contains the infor-mation they want. So how do you convey your messages to your patients? What body language and tone do you and your staff use? Have your staff been trained in communication methods and techniques? How do you educate your patients, for example on what services you provide, on how they should look after their teeth, or on what treatment modality would best suit them?

Do you provide the type of communication they want and do you provide the information they are looking for? Are there various ways for them to communicate with you? For example, do you do regular patient surveys, or have feedback forms or anonymous suggestion boxes?

Do you know why patients leave?

A good way to find out why you are not retaining your patients, or why they leave, is simply to ask them. A short survey or patient feedback could be conducted to understand what made a patient leave and why. There could be many things that adversely affect a patient, such as the attitude of the reception staff, the body language used by practitioners, feeling rushed in the surgery, or even the décor .

If you don’t know why your patients are leaving, then you will never know how to fix the problem. So finding out is an essential prerequisite to implementing changes in your practice.

Measure improvement

If you want something to improve, you need to measure it. If you want loyalty, i.e. retention and referrals to increase, measure them. How do you know how many patients were referred to your practice by a new advertising campaign? How do you know how well a loyalty card referral is working for you? How do you know how many patients were referred to you by existing patients in the last month? How many patients claim they are satisfied according to ratings gathered via surveys? How many patients are coming back as a result of patient recalls, and did every patient get the recall? How many patients failed to attend, did anyone text or phone them to remind them of their appointment and does this suit them?

Get your existing patients to be your practice advocates

The best way to keep existing patients is to make sure they are satisfied. If they are satisfied, they will spread the word to their friends and family, who in turn will refer more patients to you. A good way to reward existing patients is to give them a reason to refer a patient. It could be in the form of an incentive or a discount off their next treatment or a free check up. This will speak won-ders for your practice and help advertise your services for free too.

A team effort

Your practice will only retain your patients and keep them satisfied if the whole team is singing the same tune. This provides continuity in your service and every time a new or existing patient comes your way, they will be satisfied with the way they are being treated. In the same way, people revisit their favourite restaurant, because they know they will get good results every time.

Just as important as making sure your whole team pulls together is the implementation of new strategies and the provision of continuous training to ensure your patients have the most satisfactory of journeys through your practice. This will not only enable you to have peace of mind, but also free you up to lead your team to new heights.

Create a survey to see how well you are doing

Get your staff/team on board with your patient satisfaction and retention strategy by having a brainstorming session with them about:

  • current retention efforts
  • types of patient communication
  • goals for retaining patients
  • the desired outcomes of any survey.

Things to talk about in this initial discussion could include:

  • How do we believe patients perceive us?
  • How well do we communicate with our patients?
  • What kind of communication do we use?
  • How often do we communicate between appointments?
  • What is the patient experience like?
  • What is our current patient retention status?
  • What are our goals for patient retention?
  • What information would we like to gather from a survey?
  • How will this information work to help us retain patients?
  • How will we use this information?

This discussion will help you to focus on possible end outcomes your practice needs and wants to achieve. Following this discussion, review current and past efforts to retain patients: look at examples of patient communication such as newsletters, appointment reminder voice mails, emails or cards; and review the competition.

Next create the survey, bearing in mind all the background information. Begin with your list of current and lapsed patients. Ultimately, you will need enough consistent feedback from your survey so that you can implement changes in the way you run your practice.

Remember, though, that a survey is not just conducted once, used for a period of time to determine necessary improvements, and then forgotten. To be effective, its insights need to be measured on a regular basis to determine changes in patient attitudes and behaviour.

Toolkit

Use the following item in the Toolkit to help you to put the ideas in this article into practice:

About the Author

Shilla-picture-cropt

Dr Shilla Talati BDS graduated from Guys Hospital in 1999 and has been in general dental/private dental practice ever since. She was a partner MD of Dental Perfection in Coventry for several years where she had a special interest in the management side of her own practice. She has run several courses for the GDP in general practice and is now involved in practice management issues including staff training, compliance monitoring and staff motivation. To contact Shilla on any of these aspects in general practice, email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

First published in Issue 1 of Dental Practice Manager magazine.

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