Patient retention in a tough economy

Feb. 3, 2010

By Yaman Roumani, MBA

It is now clear that we are in the midst of a prolonged period of economic hardship. Consumers are cutting spending on everything from luxury items to necessities such as health care. In this environment, it is harder for dental offices to attract quality new patients. The importance of patient retention and patient motivation is increasingly paramount for the health of your practice.

In the coming months, consistent profits will depend more on your existing patients than on a constant flow of new patients. Moreover, unless you take action, your existing patients will be more tempted to delay their dental treatment, or more alarmingly, they may price shop in other offices for a better deal. These new economic realities call for new marketing strategies. How can you position your practice to cope with the economic storm or even to thrive in it? How can you maximize the return on your marketing dollars during the economic slowdown? How can you stop patient drain and patient inactivity and turn your patients into a reliable source of new referrals?

The current marketing picture
Most dental offices focus on external marketing, where 85% to 100% of the marketing budget is spent on attracting new patients. As the economy worsens, these marketing efforts will become less fruitful and attract fewer new patients that demand less dentistry. Internal marketing, on the other hand, is largely ignored by the average dental practice. From a marketing perspective, new patients are usually overlooked after they walk through the front door. Following the initial treatment, patients often only receive financial bills and six-month recall cards from the practice. This is hardly a recipe for nurturing a healthy doctor-patient relationship.

Your patients are the best source for recurring business and quality new referrals. More effort and marketing dollars should shift from external marketing toward “energizing the base,” especially in tough economic times. According to Frederick Riechheld of the Harvard Business Review, a leading business management publication, repeat customers tend to spend more as time passes and rapport develops. When you focus more marketing and communication resources on your existing patients, they will request more elective and cosmetic procedures and grow your bottom line.

Internal marketing strategies
There are many internal marketing strategies your office can employ to build patient loyalty and increase office visits. On-hold promotional messages, cosmetic and whitening recommendations made by the hygienists, and in-office posters and educational videos are a few examples. However, all these approaches require the patient to be in the office, or at least to pick up the phone and call the front desk.

More significant gains can be achieved by reaching out to your patients. Positive doctor-patient communication outside the dental appointment will serve as a reminder of your services, and will make patients feel like important parts of your practice even when they do not need your services. Patients will be less likely to put off their dental care, and more importantly, less likely to shop around for dentists based on a price or a special offer.

Start an office newsletter
These objectives can be easily achieved through a professional periodic electronic newsletter. Newsletters offer one of the easiest and most cost effective ways to promote and market your practice. An electronic office newsletter (e-newsletter) will become your venue to introduce new services and promotions. If an associate or a new hygienist joins the office, an e-newsletter will serve as a professional bulletin board.

Moreover, these offer patients a chance to visit your Web site, refer their family and friends to your office, and request appointments with a click of a mouse. Companies specializing in dental e-newsletters such as will take the burden of writing and designing newsletters off your shoulders. As your patients forward an interesting newsletter to their family and friends, your recipient list will grow, and new recipients will likely to be converted to new patients with minimum cost and effort to the practice. Your e-newsletter can work hard to grow your practice, even when the office is closed.

Internal marketing directed toward your existing patients is one of the most cost efficient ways to grow your practice. Increased office visits, quality new referrals, and enhanced case acceptance will give your office the necessary boost during the current tough economic environment. Shifting few marketing dollars to internal marketing and reaching out to patients through a professional e-newsletter will go a long way in this economy.

As a chief Web developer, Yaman Roumani brings his expertise in business management, software, and Web design to is a leading provider of professional dental e-newsletters and e-greeting cards that are designed with your practice in mind. See a newsletter sample at or contact us at (877)648-9064 or by email at [email protected]