Consider how much effort and resources you expend attracting new patients versus keeping your current patients coming back for regular dental checkups. Sales and marketing experts across industries hold that acquiring new customers costs five times more than retaining existing customers. What’s more, loyal patients add the value of positive word-of-mouth marketing and reviews to your new-patient marketing efforts. In this article, we’ll explain four tactics you should be using to keep your patients coming back regularly to your dental practice.
Educate Your Patients
Patients who come in regularly—every six months is the accepted standard and what insurance companies are willing to cover—catch problems early and prevent more serious and costly procedures later. You know this, but you need to educate your patients. You and your hygienist should plan to make patient education a regular part of each patient visit. This requires more than telling them to floss and brush twice a day.
While your hygienist is cleaning a patient’s teeth, they should use the opportunity to explain why brushing and flossing are important. Show the patient plaque and tartar from their teeth on some gauze and explain that plaque turns to tartar, which can turn into cavities and gum disease. Explain that they can reduce the plaque with brushing and flossing, but tartar requires them to visit your hygienist. Also provide specific advice, such as pointing out that relaxing their jaws can help them better brush their molars.
During the exam, you should educate the patient about what you are looking for and what you find. Show the patient, or the guardian if the patient is a child, the X-rays and their chart on the chairside monitor. As you check their gum spacing, explain what you find and what that means. Educate the patient about the other things you’re looking for that they probably aren’t aware of, such as redness, swelling, or cancer on their tongue, throat, neck, and face. Reinforce that a cavity detected in a six-month checkup can be filled, but in a year, it might become an expensive root canal.
Schedule Patients while You Have Them in the Dental Office
The best time to schedule your patient’s next visit is while they are in the office. Don’t let this opportunity pass. Your practice management software likely opens a scheduler and automatically goes to the next six-month opening in your calendar when you close out the current appointment. Ask the patient if that time works or find another time that you can schedule before they leave.
Include a little reminder of why they should schedule their next appointment. For example, rather than saying, “Would you like to schedule your next appointment?” ask, “Does December 8 work for your next preventive cleaning and examination?”
If the patient chooses not to schedule the next appointment, educate them on how to use online booking in your practice management software to schedule a convenient time from home.
Become a Regular Trusted Advisor
Develop a trusted-advisor relationship with your patients and take measures to stay on their mind by communicating during the six months when you don’t see them. You can send tips via text—89 percent of people always have their phone at arm’s reach, and 82 percent read text messages within five minutes1. Don’t become a texting nuisance, but do send relevant information, and communicate more often as they get closer to their next appointment time. Don’t forget to give them an option to opt out of your messages.
Creating the information you send is most likely an impossible task for your office, but, luckily, a number of resources are readily available. An internet search for “dental patient education content” returns over 250 million links. Some of these sites are selling education and materials such as videos, but many others have free content. Manufacturer websites are among the best resources. Check out www.colgateprofessional.com/patienteducation,2 www.dentalcare.com/en-us/patienteducation/patient-materials3. They cover topics such as flossing, teeth whitening, gum disease, dry mouth, bad breath, canker sores, and many more topics patients are interested in, and they are written for the patient.
Don’t Let Patients Forget or Procrastinate
Send your patients reminders to schedule, confirm, and appear for an appointment. Taking full advantage of the patient reminder capabilities in your practice management software, send a confirmation reminder one to three weeks prior to the appointment, a confirmation reminder the day before, and, if the patient has a history of missing appointments, an hour before the appointment. Your patient-reminder software should prevent you from over-communicating by stopping after an appointment has been confirmed. Find out your patients’ preferences for reminders such as text, email, phone call, or post card, and record this in the patient’s profile in your software.
Encouraging patients to schedule regular dental checkups takes more than sending reminders when their six months are up. Make sure they understand why regular checkups are important. Become the person they think of first when they think of their oral hygiene. And then remind them.
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