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These patients are hurting your dental practice

Oct. 4, 2022
Face it: you have dental patients you aren't happy to see on the schedule. These are the three types of patients who actually hurt your practice, and what you can do about them.
Sally McKenzie, CEO of McKenzie Management

Editor's note: Sally McKenzie was a powerful voice in the dental industry until her passing in 2020. We're sharing this article in the spirit of having her high-quality and insightful work live on and continue inspiring readers. Read more about her legacy in the dental profession from Chris Salierno, DDS.

While you always want to attract new patients to your practice, you also need to keep in mind there are some patients who do your practice more harm than good. I’m sure you can probably think of a patient or two you’d rather not see on the schedule, simply because you know they’re trouble.

Unfortunately, certain types of patients hurt your practice—and that’s why you want to focus on attracting high-quality patients who accept treatment and refer you to others. These are the patients you look forward to seeing on the schedule because you know they’re the ones who are helping your practice grow.

OK, so how can you recognize when a patient is hurting your practice? Here are the three types of patients who cause your practice damage, and what you can do to turn these problem patients into loyal patients.

Patients who can’t seem to remember their appointment times

When patients don’t show up for their appointments, it throws your entire practice into a panic. Everyone scrambles to figure out how to fill the hole because if it doesn’t get filled, there’s no way the practice will meet that day’s production goals.

Broken appointments lead to stress and cost you money, and I’m talking thousands of dollars in lost revenues every year. You’ll never eliminate these patients completely, but there are ways you can reduce them.

Start by making sure patients see the value in dentistry and the services you provide. When they’re in the chair, educate them about their conditions and the possible consequences of not going forward with treatment. Before they leave, give them a list of every service that was performed during the appointment and every free product you’re sending home with them. That way, they’ll see exactly what goes into every visit. Help them understand the importance of keeping their dental appointments and they’ll be much more likely to show up.

It’s also a good idea to confirm all appointments two days in advance. Your patients are busy people, and they’re likely to forget about their appointments if they don’t receive a reminder. If something has come up and they can’t make it after all, you have two days to find a replacement, which makes the process a lot less stressful.

Another tip: don’t preappoint patients who are known for flaking. Tell them you’ll call a month or two before they’re due back. They’ll have a better idea of what their schedules are and will be more likely to keep their appointments.

Patients who avoid paying

I hate to say it, but there are patients who do whatever they can to put off paying for services rendered. They are full of excuses and promise they’ll get payment to you soon, but they never do.

This is a frustrating problem that many practices struggle with, which is why it’s so important to create a financial policy. Through this policy, make it clear when payment is expected—don’t leave any room for confusion. I also suggest offering third-party financing through companies such as CareCredit. You’ll get paid what you produce, and patients won’t have to write a large check all at once. They can make small monthly payments that are much more manageable for them. Not only will this help you get paid on time, it will also make it easier for patients to say yes to expensive treatment plans.

Patients you only see once

I’m sure this has happened to you more times than you’d like to admit. A new patient comes to your practice and, as far as you can tell, everything goes great. You recommend treatment and fully expect the patient to schedule before leaving. Instead, he or she walks out the door, never to be heard from again.

Patients decide not to return to a practice for many reasons, but it’s often because they didn’t feel a connection or it seemed like the practice’s main focus was to sell them on expensive dentistry.

Don’t come off as a used car salesman. Instead, focus on building a rapport with your patients. How? Make customer service a priority. Train team members to greet every patient with a warm welcome and friendly smile. Your team should be helpful and reassuring, letting patients know they’re in good hands.

Once patient are in the chairs, take the time to get to know them. Ask about their families and occupations. Show patients you truly care about their well-being and talk with them about how your practice can help them meet their dental health goals. Remember, don’t overwhelm them with costly treatment plans. Focus on their most critical needs first.

Building a rapport will go a long way in creating loyal patients who call your practice their dental home. Remember, it costs five times more to attract new patients to your practice than it does to keep the ones you already have. Don’t let your marketing efforts go to waste.

You know how important patients are to your practice’s success, but the wrong patients will only hold you back. Don’t let them. Focus on making changes that turn these problem patients into loyal patients who truly help your practice thrive.

Editor's note: Originally posted in 2018 and updated regularly

About the Author

Sally McKenzie | CEO of McKenzie Management

Sally McKenzie was CEO of McKenzie Management, a full-service, nationwide dental practice management company. For over 30 years, Sally immersed herself in techniques, systems, and methods to improve the performance of dental practices. She was a dental auxiliary, dental business administrator, and dental educator for several years prior to founding McKenzie Management in 1980.

Read more about her legacy in the dental profession from Chris Salierno, DDS.