Looking for a way to boost your patient retention? Here are five ways to use your continuing care system to help your patients understand how much you value them as clients.
A single friend of mine recently told me about a blind date experience. After an online dating service connected her with someone of similar interests, the two went out to dinner and had what she thought was a great evening. However, as the night drew to a close, her date’s parting words were, “Keep in touch.”
It didn’t take an expert to know that guy wasn’t going to call again.
Regrettably, too often in dental practices we brush off our patients with the same ambivalence. We spend a lot of time and money recruiting new patients to the practice, give them good care and service while they’re in the office, and then we let them go out the door without establishing a longterm relationship. If we were really interested in keeping those patients around, we’d make sure to schedule their next appointment without taking no for an answer.
Studies have shown that with the current state of the economy, fewer patients are seeking dental care. As a result, there are fewer new patients looking for a new dentist. Yet, patient retention still averages somewhere around 55% in most offices. Dental practices can’t afford to act like the next patient is waiting around the corner. We need to treat every patient as if keeping him or her coming back is our most important task.
An effective continuing care program communicates to patients that you value their patronage and you don’t plan to brush them off with a “Keep in touch” attitude. Dentrix makes it easy to get your continuing care program working to communicate to patients that you want them in a long-term relationship.
If you’re not sure that your continuing care program is sending the right message, here are five ways to activate and keep your existing patients coming back:
- Pre-book your hygiene appointments.
- Effectively communicate with patients about their scheduled appointments.
- Find patients who managed to leave without pre-booking an appointment.
- Reach out to patients who may be embarrassed about returning to your practice after a long interval.
- Keep track of continuing care statistics.
1. Pre-Book Your Hygiene Appointments
Practice management consultants have recommended pre-booking for years. Often this suggestion is met with resistance, such as “Patients don’t like to book an appointment ahead of time, they don’t know what they’ll be doing in six months” or “When we pre-book, we wind up with holes in our schedule because patients don’t show up for their appointments.” With persistence and a good attitude, you can easily overcome these objections.
Remind patients that by scheduling their appointment now they select a date and time that best works for their schedule. Additionally, by pre-booking they prioritize a vital component to overall wellness, as good dental health helps to minimize the risk for other conditions, such as heart disease.
If you’re using the Dentrix Appointment Book as designed, then you’ve got all the tools you need to make scheduling that next hygiene appointment a breeze. If today’s appointment has been scheduled for a continuing care reason, you can set the appointment complete and schedule the next appointment with only a few mouse clicks.
To pre-book the next appointment, click on the patient’s appointment. Click the Set Complete button. A dialog box appears listing the procedures scheduled in the appointment. Click Set Complete to post the procedures to the Chart and Ledger. Next, a prompt appears asking you to create a new continuing care appointment. Click Yes.
Dentrix creates a new appointment for the patient using the same time, the same operatory, the same provider, and the same continuing care reason using their new continuing care date as the appointment date. Make any necessary changes to the appointment time and click OK to pre-book the next appointment.
It’s that simple.
2. Effectively Communicate With Patients About Their Scheduled Appointments
Once you’ve started pre-booking your patients, you’ll want to make sure that they don’t forget their scheduled appointment date and time. By actively contacting patients who have prebooked their appointments, you can minimize your no shows. Fortunately, Dentrix can do the contacting for you.
With the Dentrix Communication Manager, Dentrix can send appointment reminder cards, emails, and text messages to all your pre-booked patients.
You just have to set up the correspondence intervals. Start by designing a dynamic “Keep in Touch” strategy. For example, two weeks before the pre-booked appointment send patients an appointment reminder postcard. Follow up with an email reminder two days before the appointment. As a final reminder effort, two hours before the appointment, send a text message inviting patients to ask about a cosmetic service such as bleaching at their scheduled appointment.
While you’ll never fully eliminate last-minute cancellations and no-shows, with the right communication campaign you’ll get patients the information they need and let them know that you value their relationship with you.
3. Find Patients Who Managed to Leave Without Pre-booking an Appointment
Despite your good attitude and winning ways, some patients will leave your office without pre-booking their next appointment. But don’t give up on this budding relationship; instead nurture it with a follow-up phone call. Luckily, Dentrix is already keeping track of these patients. You can quickly identify the patients that may need a little extra TLC by generating a continuing care list that shows patients who should have scheduled a hygiene appointment, but didn’t.
You should generate this list for patients who are due for hygiene care but haven’t scheduled an appointment. From the Appointment Book, click the Continuing Care button. Once the Continuing Care list opens, click View > Temporary View. Make sure that the Type option is set to With CC and the Sched. Appt? option is set to Only Without. Click the Use Due Date Range option and enter a date range to target patients who are due for hygiene care within the dates you specify. For example, if you want to find patients who are due for hygiene next month, enter the first and last days of next month in your date range. Click OK to generate the list.
Use the list to make phone calls. As you make contact with patients, make detailed notes about the phone call in the Office Journal to help you remember what happened on the call. The Continuing Care List is dynamic, so once you’ve scheduled a patient for an appointment, they’ll be automatically removed from your call list.
4. Reach Out To Patients Who May Be Embarrassed About Returning To Your Practice After a Long Interval
We’ve all had the experience of putting something off and then forgetting about it. When we finally remember, we may feel embarrassed about how much time has passed. This is a critical time in your relationship with patients. Because they feel embarrassed, they may decide it’s easier to go to another dentist than to deal with the awkwardness of seeing you again. Rather than lose these patients, reach out to them with an attitude that communicates that you don’t care what happened in the past, you want to see them again.
Start by sending these patients an email reminder that tells them you’ve missed them. Create a special campaign for them in the Communication Manager. Select a template that’s both friendly and inviting (Figure 4). Edit the text of the email to say something like, “We’ve missed you. At Dentrix Dental Practice we want to make sure that you have the best smile possible. We’ll be calling to see how we can best meet your oral health needs. Talk to you soon.”
Once your emails have gone out, follow up with a phone call that encourages patients to schedule their hygiene appointment. Work from the continuing care list to identify patients who need a phone call. Generate a list similar to the one in the previous section, but change your due date range to target the patients you’re trying to reactivate.
5. Keep Track of Continuing Care Statistics
You can see how well you’re doing with getting those appointments scheduled by running the Practice Advisor Report. To run the report, from the Office Manager click Analysis > Practice Advisor. Click the Practice Advisor Report button. Make sure that the Continuing Care and Include Graphs for Continuing Care options are selected. Click Preview to see the report.
The CC Due section gives you the number of patients flagged overdue for the previous month, the current month, and next month, in addition to giving you the total number of patients flagged as overdue in your database. The # of Patients Due with Appt Scheduled row lets you know how many (and what percentage) of those overdue patients have scheduled an appointment.
The report shows you statistics for the continuing care visits you’ve completed and for patients with continuing care due. The CC Visits section of the report shows you visit data about the previous month, the current month, and the year to date. The # of CC Patients Seen row shows the total number of patients that have been seen in the time period (prior month, month-to-date, or year-to-date). You can see how many of those patients have their next appointment already scheduled by looking at the # of Patients Seen with Appt Scheduled row. (The graphical option shows you the # of Patients Seen with Appt Scheduled option as a bar graph to help you visualize the data.) Use the # of Patients Seen with Appt Scheduled number to quickly gauge how well you’re doing at keeping your patients active in your practice.
In today’s economic climate, you need to communicate clearly to patients that you want them to come back to your office. Using your continuing care system effectively communicates to patients that you want a long, healthy, and productive relationship with them. The message of “Let’s schedule you for your next visit, right now” is much better at conveying that message than the message of “Keep in Touch.”
For more ideas about keeping your patients active in the practice, read “Don’t Let Patients Fall Through the Cracks in your Hygiene Program.”
To learn more about scheduling continuing care appointments, see the Creating Continuing Care Appointments in the Dentrix Help.
Visit https://www.dentrix.com/solutions/patient-engagement to learn more about the Communication Manager and other tools to help you with patient engagement.
By May Wescott, Contributing Editor
Originally published in Dentrix Magazine, Summer 2012