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6 dental patient retention strategies

Jan. 16, 2019
Retaining your dental patients may be more important that acquiring new patients. There must be solid systems in place for encouraging patients to stay with the practice.
Every dental office manager knows that retaining current patients is just as vital to an office’s success as drawing in new prospective patients from the community. Through retention, established practices thrive and grow.

But this doesn’t come easily. In fact, patient retention requires strategized methods and an action plan. Allowing retention to happen on its own or by accident will allow patients to slip through the cracks and seek their dental care elsewhere.

At the American Association of Dental Office Management (AADOM), we teach members to focus on retention. It is easier and more cost effective than patient acquisition. Here I’ll share six top patient retention strategies.

1. Know your patients

Develop a plan to help staff members remember patients and their personal situations. For example, have a digital photo of each patient on file and keep a note in their charts about what they talked about during their previous visit. Did Mrs. Smith talk about her son’s upcoming wedding? Ask her how it went. Remembering each guest who steps into your practice will help them feel valued and appreciated because you remembered them (even if you needed a little help!).

2. Give patients time with the dentist

Your dentist’s time is valuable, as is everyone’s in the office. But most patients want to have that one-on-one time they feel they deserve with the doctor. When they don’t get it, it sets a tone throughout the practice as a whole that they’re not as important as the person in the next room.

Set aside a few uninterrupted minutes for the dentist to have a face-to-face with your patient where they’re not disturbed or distracted. Even if the patient isn’t scheduled to see the dentist that day, arrange a time where the doctor can quickly pop in to say hello.

3. Reassess your patient hand-offs

A lot of patients slip through the cracks when messages aren’t correctly relayed from the back-office staff to the front office team. If a patient is still considering whether or not to go through with a particular procedure, this is usually where the broken link in the chain will occur.

This is where communication is key. Use the patient’s name during your hand-off to other staff, and always reiterate the patient’s needs or upcoming appointment protocol with the next staff member in front of the patient, even if the patient is aware of what that plan is. You’re subconsciously reinforcing to patients the value of and need for their next steps in care.

4. Consider modifying your financial policies and insurance protocol

It’s vital to have an established financial protocol in order to reduce collections and minimize past-due accounts. But if those policies are discouraging patients from returning to your office, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. To ease and minimize the risk of losing patients as network or collections protocols are modified, it’s important to take a step back and look at the circumstances as if you were a patient with no experience managing claims.

Are there things that need to change? Do you need to improve the way you communicate these policies with your patients? Find a way to explain things so that they’re easy to understand yet still financially beneficial to the patients you serve. As you do, you’ll find that informed individuals will be able to comply with your financial policy without withdrawing and going elsewhere for care. Education is key, but you have to keep your eyes open throughout the process.

5. Open the door

You wouldn’t believe how many practices leave the front doors to their offices locked, even if there’s five minutes left during the lunch hour or everyone is still gathered in the morning huddle. In most cases this is not a safety issue, but rather an impersonal way of saying, “Sorry, but we’re not ready to work yet.”

Unlock the door and have a small sign at the desk that says, “We’ll be right with you! Please sign in” and allow patients to come in and get settled on their own time. Being so rigid that people are left standing outside two minutes before the practice opens makes patients feel as if staff are more concerned about their timecards than they are about the patients coming in for care.

6. Be on time

Scheduling strategies are key when it comes to making all patients feel confident enough to entrust you with their oral health. If you run behind every day, it won’t take long for people to notice. The same can be said for how soon you’re able to see patients back in your office for follow-up care. If they’re waiting eight to nine weeks for a treatment appointment after their exams, they’ll think that it’s not as much of a priority as the staff made it out to be.

Patient retention is an ongoing process that never ends and nearly always has room for improvement. Follow these six steps to make big changes now!

Heather Colicchio is the founder and president of the American Association of Dental Office Management (AADOM), the nation’s largest professional organization for dental office managers and practice administrators. AADOM teaches business management skills for the dental practice. Heather is passionate about small business and entrepreneurship. One of her strengths is connecting people to achieve their goals. She appreciates quality collaboration and thrives on working with a talented team of professionals within the dental industry. Learn more about AADOM and Heather’s advocacy for dental management professionals at
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