Where, Oh Where Have Your Patients Gone?

Posted on May 1, 2015 by Sandy Pardue

Patients are falling through the cracks in the majority of practices, unbeknownst to the doctor and team. They are focused on getting new patients, and pay little attention to the gold mine available to them with a few clicks of their computer mouse.

New patients are vital to every practice, but what about the forgotten patients? I am referring to the patients that missed their last recall visit or haven’t been in for awhile. Not only are they a hidden treasure, they are counting on you to take care of their mouths. Most consider you their dentist, even though time has passed. You could be losing up to 50% of your patient base each year. What actions have you taken to get them back to your practice and in your chair? What are you doing to retain these folks?

Out of Sight Out of Mind

When I ask dentists how they would like to improve their practice, a common response is, “I need more new patients.” They are concerned about new patient flow, but rarely communicate with the best patients, the ones that have benefited from their services in the past. Patients fall in the cracks for various reasons, the most common being the lack of an effective recall and reactivation system. Other reasons are little or no communication from the practice and/or inactivating patients too soon.

Think about your own life, most of you will agree that a year passes quickly. Patients are not waiting anxiously for six months to roll around so they can come in for a cleaning and exam. Since they don’t know what we know about dental health, going to the dentist is not on the top of their priority list. The more time that passes without hearing from you, the more likely they are going to end up in the chair of another dentist.

Patients should not be inactivated just because they haven’t been in within 12 months. This is by far the biggest mistake I see in practices. My experience has been that the longer they stay away, the less likely they will return to your practice. If they are not hearing from you, it is harder for them to muster up the nerve to return. Many times they are already embarrassed about their mouth. The more time goes by, the more embarrassed they become about putting it off and their neglect.

I’ve seen practices intentionally not reach out to patients because a year has passed and they now consider them inactive. When I ask about this, the team and the dentist offer excuses such as:

  • “She missed her last appointment.”
  • “Her insurance changed.”
  • “Her recall card was returned.”
  • “She is always late for her appointments.”
  • “Recall cards never work.”
  • “If they don’t want optimum dental health, we don’t want them as a patient.”

The above responses tell me that the doctor and team are missing a lot of opportunities if they don’t reactivate these patients. They need to change their viewpoint and focus on the actions it takes to retain these folks.

Patients do not know what we know about dentistry. We have a lot of work to do in that regard. It is all of our responsibility to get them educated about what will happen if they don’t come in, if they put off treatment or if they don’t get the treatment they need. This is not occurring enough and patients are falling in the cracks as a result.