Improve Your Bottom Line by Contacting Inactive Patients

It doesn’t matter how many new patients you recruit each month if you’re not retaining your existing patients. Try these strategies to get your inactive patients back into the office.

Updated 6/30/20

Once upon a time, when I heard people talk about tracking inactive patients I would roll my eyes. As the person in charge of filling a busy schedule and keeping a fast-paced office on the move, I thought that just wasn’t all that important. Who cared about patients that we were losing when I had lots of patients right in front of me? I didn’t think tracking inactive patients or reactivating patients was nearly as vital as getting new patients in the door. I couldn’t see the impact that tracking my inactive patients could have on my bottom line.

I have definitely learned the error of my ways since then. I now know that it is just as important to take care of your inactive patients as it is to take care of the patients who are currently in the office, and it’s just as important to reactivate inactive patients as it is to recruit new patients. After all, recruiting 20 new patients a month only grows the practice if you are not losing 20 patients a month to inactivity.

The first step in caring for your inactive patients is finding them. You can use the Inactive Patient list to find the patients that are currently “in limbo”.

You haven’t really lost them yet, you just haven’t seen them in a while. Now is the time to reach out to them to see what’s going on. Do they want to remain an active patient? Are they going to see another dentist? Generating an inviting letter or postcard is a great way to touch base with a large number of these patients in a manageable way.

To generate the Inactive Patient List, from the Office Manager click Reports > Lists > Inactive Patient List. The time frame you use for this report is up to you, but I generally see offices looking for patients that haven’t been seen in 18 to 24 months.

You can find three types of patients with the Inactive Patient List: patients who have not been back to the office recently, patients who have no continuing care and no future appointments, and patients who are already flagged as inactive in the Family File. Run the list once by each of these criteria to get an idea of the number of patients you have to work with and the size of the project you have ahead of you.

If this is the first time you have ever run this list and you have been using Dentrix for more than a year, this list may be large. But don’t worry. You can prioritize the patients you contact by starting with the oldest year first. Review the report to find the oldest Last Visit Date and use that as your starting date when you are ready to contact patients. Work forward from oldest Last Visit Date month by month or year by year, whichever makes your total number of patients easier to work with.

As you contact the patients you find on the Inactive Patient List, let them know you would love to have them back and ask them to let you know if they want to remain active in your practice. Ask patients to respond to your communication in a specific time frame. If they respond within the time frame specified, you can respond to their wishes by scheduling them or inactivating them as requested. If they don’t respond, you can inactivate them knowing you did your best to reach out and care for them.

Dentrix has three Inactive Patient letters you can use to make this process easier. To use these letters, from the Office Manager click Letters and then click the Inactive Patient button.

The Inactive — All letter is designed to reach out to all patients with a “Patient” status in the Family File who have not been in since a specific date. The Inactive — Recall letter is designed to reach out to all patients with a “Patient” status in the Family File who are significantly overdue for Continuing Care and haven’t been in since a specific date. The Inactive Status letter is designed to reach out to all patients with an “Inactive” status in the Family File who have not come back to the practice since a specified date.

It is a good idea to start with the “Inactive — All” letter. This is where the oldest last visit date you saw on the Inactive Patients List comes into play. Create your first group of letters using that oldest last visit date so you can contact the group of patients who haven’t been to the office in a significant amount of time. Click the search button at the bottom of the Inactive Letters dialog box and enter the oldest last visit date as the Ending Date. Click Create/Merge to find patients who meet your search criteria and merge the letters.

I recommend working on this project monthly. Each month send out a new batch of letters based on a more and more recent time span, and then wait for the responses to come back. The patients that do not respond become your inactive patients. Mark them as Inactive in the Family File and keep count. This is vital data. Knowing how many patients you lose each month lets you know how many new patients you need in order to have any real growth in your practice. It’s imperative that you keep an eye on patients who are in danger of becoming inactive and prevent that from happening so that you aren’t losing patients and preventing your practice from growing.

Learn More

To learn more about the Inactive Patient List, see the Inactive Patient List topic in Dentrix Help.

Read Clean Up Your Active Patient Base for more ideas about managing inactive patients.

Get ideas about keeping your patients engaged with your practice at

By Cris Hays, Dentrix Profitability Coach

Originally published in Dentrix Magazine, Winter 2013