Patient retention is the best way to earn revenue for your clinic – because it’s a lot cheaper than acquiring new patients.
A patient retention strategy is just as important, if not more, than a patient acquisition strategy.
This article breaks down a ready-made patient retention strategy by highlighting key knowledge you need to win at retaining existing patients:
- How to think about patient retention at your clinic
- Why your patient retention might be low
- The elements of a good patient retention strategy
- Tools for better patient retention
- How to execute your patient retention strategy
What is patient retention and why does it matter for dental clinics?
Patient retention is a revenue-generating marketing tactic that focuses on keeping existing patients happy so they return to your clinic.
Existing patients have already made the decision to book at least one appointment with your clinic. When you invest in patient retention strategies that encourage patients to book another appointment, you’re maximizing all the work you did to acquire them in the first place.
Effective patient acquisition and retention strategies then work together to generate revenue.
For example, patient retention strategies yield happy patients. Happy patients do two things: they refer other patients and they leave positive online reviews. Referrals and online reviews acquire new patients … who then refer more people and write more positive reviews.
When you invest in patient retention, you’re also investing in patient acquisition – the two are inextricably linked.
Reasons why your patient retention may be low
Before we talk about treatment, let’s diagnose the problem. If your patient retention is low and you’re seeing high attrition, there are three main reasons.
- Your marketing efforts are low.
“Marketing” is a broad term. For the sake of patient retention, consider “marketing” anything that improves patient experience.
Remember how patient retention is linked to patient acquisition? Sure, you need to get new patients in the door to retain them, but marketing efforts also encompass the “maintenance work” that’s so crucial for high patient retention.
If you’re not investing in the patient experience, your marketing efforts are likely insufficient. Here are some tactics your dental clinic may be overlooking:
- Flexible payment options with multiple payment plans
- Massage chairs
- Free offers for loyal patients
- Small birthday gifts
- In-depth follow up communication via email and text
- You’re using limited and outdated technology.
If you haven’t done this yet, run through the experience of what it’s like to be a patient at your clinic from end to end. Put yourself in your patients’ shoes.
How are you booking appointments at your clinic?
Were you reminded to attend your appointment? Were you provided with information on what to expect from an appointment?
How were you able to pay for your appointment?
Did you receive any follow-up communication after your appointment?
Did you feel appreciated as a patient of your clinic? If so, how were you made to feel appreciated?
Get granular about all the touchpoints between your clinic and your patients. Did the process feel smooth the whole way through? Was it easy to book an appointment, pay, and communicate with your clinic afterward?
If the process feels clunky, outdated technology is the culprit. A lack of modern technology means calling to book appointments instead of online, relying on credit card machines to accept payment, and handing over printed treatment plans and follow up instructions to patients.
Keep reading for some automation tool recommendations that can help boost patient retention.
- Your patient communications need improvement.
Patient communication is the #1 most important thing for patient retention.
People don’t like to feel confused or in the dark about their health. When they book an appointment with your clinic, they want to be treated with empathy and thoughtful attention.
Similar to running through your patient experience, map out all communication touchpoints with your patients. Then write a wish list of all the ways you appreciate communication as a patient.
Do your lists match? Identify communication gaps and prioritize digital delivery of that content via email and text.
See how automation can help your clinic retain more patients. Request a demo.
Tips on how to retain more patients
Now that you know your potential dental patient retention gaps, you can start to build a patient retention strategy that makes sense for your clinic. Here are five tactics to help you keep more of your patients.
- Track patient appointment data.
You can’t improve what you don’t measure. Before you tackle a patient retention strategy, you’ll need to know some of your clinic’s patient retention statistics.
Some basic numbers to collect are:
- New vs. returning clients within three months, six months, and one year
- Average time between patient appointments
- Average revenue per patient
But the most important piece of information is your patient retention rate based on the number of appointments you recommend to each patient vs. the appointments they actually attend. Here’s the formula:
(Number of appointments attended by patient / Number of appointments recommended by you) x 100
For example, one of your patients booked and attended three appointments throughout the year. You recommended four appointments. The results would be:
(3/4) x 100 = 75%
Once you know your true patient retention rate, averaged out across all patients, your goal will be to improve this number.
- Invest in staff training and re-training.
Your front desk staff have a tough job because they actually perform two: administrative clinic duties and customer service.
Great administrators are not necessarily great customer service agents. Identify your staff who are great at dealing with people, and provide them with professional opportunities to grow their skills.
Send your staff to customer experience conferences. Pay for customer service courses, and grant your staff the time to complete them. Invest in bringing in a consultant who can train your staff to better communicate with patients.
Your front desk staff are your front line, and your patient experience will only be as good as how much they’ve been empowered to provide the best experience possible.
- Expand your office hours, even by just an hour or two.
If your clinic is on a nine-to-five schedule that means your patients are booking time off to attend appointments.
What if you could be the only clinic in your neighborhood who offers appointments outside business hours?
For parents, offering early morning appointments may make it easier for them to attend appointments before work.
For patients without kids to feed, after-work appointments may be the thing that nudges them to keep booking with your clinic.
- Offer a half-off day.
Be smart about your offers, and use them as re-engagement strategies. When you know which patients haven’t booked an appointment in a while, you can reach out to only those patients and offer them a half-off day to reacquaint them with your clinic.
If you’re worried about the costs, remember that acquiring new patients is 25x more expensive than retaining existing ones – so make sure to factor that into your decision.
- Remember your patients’ birthdays.
A little goes a long way – and generates potential word of mouth. You never know the next time one of your patients will find themselves at a friend’s house and mention offhand that their dentist remembered their birthday.
Tools that improve patient retention
To execute a perfect patient retention strategy, you need two things: tactics that work and the tools to execute them.
Patient retention is about improving patient experience – and most of that is about making processes more convenient for your patients. Here are five tools that can help you improve patient retention through convenience.
- Online booking
Great automation tools for clinics are always aiming to “remove friction” for patients when they’re trying to accomplish simple tasks like booking an appointment.
For dental clinics, the best way to improve patient experience is to adopt an online booking system.
A real-time appointment scheduler is no longer a “nice to have” for patient retention. Especially for patients under 40, online booking is now an expectation and will influence their decision to book an appointment and keep booking appointments at your clinic.
- Online payments
We’ve entered the era of contactless payments.
During COVID-19, patient experience is also about keeping patients safe, and that includes decreasing your clinic’s reliance on credit card machines to take payment.
Online payments improve patient and staff experience by automatically generating invoices that are sent via email and/or text, then allowing patients to pay for their appointment with a few taps on their phone. No more extra steps after their appointment is over – they leave, and they pay when it’s convenient for them.
- Text and email marketing
The medium is the message. Text and email messages convey convenience, personalization, and higher engagement levels.
Your patients spend more time on their phones than they do … anywhere else. Text messages are opened more than any other type of message.
Remember how we recommended remembering your patients’ birthdays? The best way to let them know you care about them is to personalize a birthday text message and send it with an offer.
The offer doesn’t need to be large, but it does need to be easy to access. When you send a birthday offer via text or email, patients can access it with one or two taps – and they’ll remember the convenience when deciding to book their next appointment.
- Text appointment reminders
Your clinic may be seeing anywhere between a 5% to 30% no-show rate. And, on average, clinics are losing $200 for every 60 minutes of missed appointment.
People hate picking up the phone, especially given the recent rise of robocalls. Email and text appointment reminders are a non-invasive patient retention strategy that also saves loads of staff time by eliminating phone call reminders.
Appointment reminders via text increase patient retention by reducing no-shows and cancellations.
- Online forms
Patient intake forms, medical history, authorization and consent forms … why should patients need to be present, at your clinic, to fill out these forms?
Show your patients you respect their time by sending them HIPAA-compliant digital forms to get the details you need. When you adopt online forms that integrate with your EHR, you’ll be eliminating the need for patients to repeat themselves during appointments. They’ll walk in, staff will know all relevant information, and their experience at your clinic will have been personalized and streamlined.
How to implement digital strategies for patient retention
So what’s the best way to put all this knowledge into practice? To sum up:
- Try free tools.
Invest the time to book and attend product demos for every automation tool you’re considering for your practice.
Make a list of all requirements needed for the adoption of new tools for your practice. Ask customer service agents how much time and money their automation tools save clinics, on average. Assess any potential cost against time and money saved, and base your decision to adopt new tools against these savings and ease of use.
- Invest in low-cost marketing methods.
If you’re not sure a marketing tactic is going to work, test it out on a small segment of your patients and measure their response.
If you’re seeing that your test segment is responding to your offer, that’s your signal to move forward with a larger investment in that patient retention tactic.
A good rule of thumb with any marketing tactic is to run a low-cost, low-stakes version before opening yourself up to higher cost possibilities. This means segmenting, testing, measuring, then either killing or expanding the tactic to a wider audience. Repeat this cycle with every tactic, and you’ll have a cheaper, well-oiled marketing machine on your hands.
- Find the best online tools for your practice.
The best way to higher patient retention is through automation – because the last thing you want is to devote a ton of staff time to patient retention, only to have that revenue eaten up by office inefficiencies.
Train your staff to provide the best customer service they possibly can, and invest in automation tools that can allow them to devote energy where it counts: talking to patients, answering their questions, and making them feel cared for at your clinic.