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How well do you know your active dental patient base?

March 13, 2018
As business owners, dentists need to keep track of many items to be successful. One of those items is the active patient base. What is active patient base, and how do dentists keep track and make use of this?

For any business to be successful, it must know and grow its customer base. Understanding even basic demographics of its customer base helps a business develop effective marketing strategies, and asking the hard questions about why clients switch to a competitor can help a business determine how it can improve client experiences.

When dentists commit to running their practices like businesses, these statistics will be among those they need to know on a consistent basis. Understanding the active patient base will shed a light on the facets that measure the success of your business.


FIRST, LET'S DEFINE PATIENT BASE. When I look at a practice analysis with a client, I look at the number of patients who have been in the practice for any reason during the last 18 months. There are variations of this depending on who I talk to, but I find that this number affords the best opportunity to look at hygiene retention, emergency patient conversion potential, and production per patient, and also allows for a simple retention communication workflow. The number of active patients a practice needs will vary depending on insurance participation (due to contractual write-offs) and available hours.

SECOND, IT'S CRITICAL TO ACCURATELY TRACK ATTRITION. If a patient leaves the practice, you must know why, and the record must be inactivated properly in your practice management software. To protect your practice, all contact attempts should follow your established protocol and be logged in the software. It is not enough that notes of calls are made and messages left are written in a report that’s eventually thrown away or can be altered. If patients indicate that they have left the practice or if they don’t respond to your contact attempts, the reason must be entered in such a way that a report can be pulled monthly and reviewed.

What are the latest trends with active patients? We looked at Sikka Software’s statistics from nearly 13,000 dental practices across the United States. Again, for definition’s sake, an active patient is one who has visited the practice in the last 18 months.

Let’s look at the numbers. It seems they’re trending in the right direction. How do these compare to your numbers?

2010 – 2,194.4
2011 – 2,206.9
2012 – 2,213.5
2013 – 2,231.5
2014 – 2,251.9
2015 – 2,335.3
2016 – 2,403.8

Once the active patient base is determined to be accurate, there are a number of other key performance indicators (KPIs) that can be determined and monitored, including:

• Gross production per patient per year, which should be anywhere from $600 to $800 depending on general versus specialty procedures. Does your team need help with presenting treatment and creating a sense of urgency for needed treatment? Are your fees determined to be in the appropriate percentile?
• Number of new patients needed per dentist per month to sustain and grow the business. Don’t forget to account for attrition.
• How successful the doctor and the team are at converting those new patients who come in for an emergency into longtime patients.
• Attrition, which will help pinpoint areas of customer service to improve to close that back door.
• When the time comes for the practice to extend hours or welcome additional providers.
• The retention system. Eighty-five percent of your active patients should be active in your hygiene schedule. How is your retention system working? Would a targeted reactivation campaign be appropriate?

Knowing your active patient base is critical to many of your decisions as a business owner. It’s not just a number, but a true benchmark for developing your vision and goals. As the leader of your team, involve them in understanding the numbers, as well as how they can influence these benchmarks. Inspire them to be creative to achieve and exceed the goals you set together, and then celebrate together as a team.

Note: Now is a great time to examine your fees and prepare for the second quarter of your business year. Get a head start with a free 10-procedure fee survey for your zip code from the app Practice Mobilizer at For more in-depth information, you can purchase a full fee survey with more than 600 procedure codes for three zip codes at

During her 25 years of experience in the dental industry, Andrea Greer has led practices from many positions: dental assistant, hygienist, office manager, Dentrix trainer, practice management consultant, and speaker. As the founder of On Point Dental Consulting, she approaches her work with each practice to develop protocols and workflows to reduce stress and advance patient communication. Andrea is passionate about helping dentists and their teams believe in what they provide to patients and realize contentment and purpose. Her gift of connection and empathy is a key element in engaging with audience members, as well as developing leadership one-on-one with her clients. Visit OnPoint.Consulting to connect with Andrea.

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