Content Dam Diq Online Articles 2018 06 90 Percent 1

Are the numbers in your dental practice really what you think they are?

June 27, 2018
This dentist had a big surprise when he checked his practice numbers. What he thought were returning patients were not. He learned how to interpret his numbers and involve the whole team in improvements.
When I’m working with a dental practice, I want to see the big picture, the 37,000-foot view of the practice, so I can see where to start a conversation. Numbers tell a story, such as what systems need tweaking and where the practice is excelling.

I visited a practice in Washington state recently, and it had been several years since I’d worked with them. The doctor had hired a couple of new team members and he thought it was a good time for me to do some team training. I started with the Practice Advisor Report in his Dentrix software to see where the training should take us. He had never looked at this report, so I gave him a rundown on what it would reveal. One of the numbers was his office’s patient retention.

“Do you know how wide open your back door is?” I asked him. He said, “No one leaves our office without scheduling their next recare visit. I can guarantee you that.” These were his exact words, so I was excited to see what the numbers would tell us. The mood went from excitement to horror in a matter of minutes when he realized the patient retention number was only 76%. Not only that, I had to break the news that only 66% of his hygiene patients were pre-scheduling their next visits.

This was a big eye-opener for him, and he knew we had a lot of work to do. Now you might be asking, “How does she know the numbers were right?” or “What is she using for measurement?” I define patient retention as what percentage of the active patient base is returning for their recare visits (D1110, D4910, D1120) within a certain period of time (12 months, 18 months, etc.).

How do your numbers compare?

Do you know how your numbers stack up? Here are the average numbers for patient recall according to Sikka Software’s data collection from more than 13,000 dental practices across the US during a recent seven-year stretch.

2010 – 89.59%
2011 – 89.98%
2012 – 90%
2013 – 89.88%
2014 – 89.77%
2015 – 90.57%
2016 – 91.28%

In a perfect world we want to see patient retention at 100%, right? In reality, we have to account for patients moving out of state, patients dying, and patients who leave for other reasons. It is the “other reasons” that we want to reduce to a minimum. In a general practice, we want to see this percentage number in the high 80s. The highest I’ve seen patient retention is 96% and the lowest is 66%.

If your practice has a patient retention below 85%, I suggest you look at the systems regarding how your team follows up with patients who are not scheduled for their hygiene visits. What reports are you using to find patients who are not scheduled, and what is your protocol for checking in with them? Are you using software to reach out to patients via text message and email? It’s important to have a systematic approach to following up with unscheduled patients and to create a system that integrates both automated and manual reminders. The automated system will reach about 40%-60% of your patients, and many of those will delete the message. You’ll need to pick up the phone and make some calls if you want to see your patient retention percentage in the high 80s or low 90s.

It’s up to you if you want to run your business based on a gut feeling, or run it based on black and white numbers. The practice discussed in this article will never make assumptions about the health of the practice again. The doctor learned his lesson and is now including the entire team in monitoring the practice numbers.

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Note: Now is a great time to connect with your patients and ask for referrals. Use the secure video communication and messaging capability of the app Practice Mobilizer at If you want a full-scale retention analysis and ROI calculation, visit Practice Optimizer, which works with more than 96% of practice management software, at

During her career managing a practice on Whidbey Island in Washington state, Dayna Johnson started training and consulting with other dental practices around the region and found it to be her life’s work. Now with more than 25 years of experience in the dental industry, Dayna helps clients develop standardized protocols for all practice management systems. She’s the founder of Novonee–the premier Dentrix online community, and she helps cultivate Dentrix superusers all over the country. Reach her at [email protected].