First Things First: How to Stop the Revolving Door Syndrome

We have seen it so many times; a dentist is working harder than ever, but cannot seem to get ahead. Many believe that if they keep new patients coming into their practices, that all will be well. To be certain, new patients are the life’s blood of any healthy practice, but what happens when new patients become existing patients and then they leave? If the flow of existing patients leaving out the back door is greater than the flow of new patients coming into the front door, then the practice will not be as successful as it could be.

So what causes the flow of patients leaving practices? Let’s face it there are many reasons as to why patients leave a practice, some obvious and some subtle. I have frequently written about what is necessary to bring new patients into the practice, but rarely have I dealt with the practice’s weaknesses that cause existing patients to leave, so today I want to discuss the topic.

For the sake of brevity, let’s assume that the office has done a good job bringing in new patients. It has an adequate marketing program to keep new patients calling the office to make appointments. It has people with good phone skills that can get callers scheduled. It has modern, attractive facilities with adequate parking and signage. It has a friendly and engaged front office that makes incoming patients feel welcomed and comfortable. It has a professional clinical staff that works hard to deliver the best care and creates the highest customer satisfaction possible. The doctor treats patients with efficiency and empathy.

If all of the above conditions are met, then the most probable cause for failure is in unsuccessful treatment presentation. There are few situations as important as treatment presentation to keep existing patients coming back. Some practitioners take a very clinical point of view and lack a good chair-side manner. Some are insensitive about how expensive treatments make some patients feel very conflicted. What then is the best way to get a patient to accept treatment?

To begin with, staff and practitioners need to know their patients. Patients who are addressed by their names by the front office feel welcome. When staff members care enough to carry on pleasant conversation adding a few personal details that have been discussed in previous visits, patients feel that the staff actually is invested in the relationship. Staff members usually have an idea about what concerns their patients have. Good receptionists and hygienists are almost like therapists: patients who trust them will usually reveal their hopes and fears about their dental care to them. Information gleaned and recorded by office staff can be very helpful in treatment presentation.

With that said, one of the best ways to maximize treatment acceptance is to put resources into that phase of the process. Most practitioners do not have the time, and some do not have the empathy to make effective presentations to their patients. Those dentists may come across as cold or indifferent, whether or not they truly are.

At this point, the staff’s investment of time in conversing and listening to patients can pay off. If the presenter has notes about the patient’s dental phobia or financial concerns, then the treatment presentation can be tailored to those circumstances. In the case of the patient who is fearful of pain, the talk can center on the measures the dentist will take minimize pain during the procedure and the post-op recovery. If the patient’s concerns are financial in nature, the presenter can discuss third party financers for dental care, or in-office payment plans. Treatment presenters can be huge in completing the process of treatment presentation to treatment, and can stem the tide of patients heading for the backdoor as soon as times get hard. These patients feel cared for and become loyal advocates for the practice. They stay, pay and make referrals. The practice grows and profits follow.

John Ross