The word retention and several words to support it.
I have been in the dental field for more than 20 years. I have lived my life as a hygiene assistant, EDDA, Manager, regional trainer, Territory manager, and a dental consultant.  I have been on teams of 6 and lead teams of 800. With all I have seen and learned in this field I love so dearly, retention remains one of the biggest issues in practices all over the country.  How is it we can give someone a crown in one day and we can’t figure out how to keep the patients we have so carefully and painstakingly attracted to our office?

The answer? Control.  Simply put, the more control we have over the patient visit, the more comfortable they are. Comfortable people refer others, accept treatment, and pay their bills. So how do we create control with out being controlling? Systems.  Systems are what take us from average to extraordinary. They are also what keep our staff members from feeling like they are surviving everyday to feeling like they are arriving everyday!

So why doesn’t every office have strong systems in place?

The truth is as a dentist; you are so busy being the CEO and the main production source that knowing exactly what metrics to focus on is often lost. If there is any advice I can drive home, it is that what you give attention and power to will thrive.
That being said, retention is a wonderful place to devote your time. Often I have dentists tell me all they need is “X” amount of new patients a month. The truth is if those new patients aren’t being retained, they do you no good.
Take a step back and look at how your patients are being escorted through your practice.

How is your phone being answered?

  • Is there a pleasant, knowledgeable staff member answering your phones?
  • Does your office have a new patient intake form that helps create a relationship?
  • Have you made your vision of how you want your patients treated clear to all staff members?

How are we scheduling?

  • Is staff being mindful as to where the patient is scheduled?
  • Have we trained all admin staff to read our schedule so they are giving the visit enough time to ensure no wait times?
  • Do our new patients see Hygiene first or are they filtered through the doctors scheduled?

Are we saving spots for key appointments in our schedule to ensure a quick conversion rate?

  • If we want 40 new patients a month, we need to save 40 new patient spots.
  • Do you have big production spots saved in the restorative schedule to ensure you are hitting goal?
  • Are you planning your day or is it happening to you?

How are patients greeted?

  • Is your team standing to greet the new patient as they arrive?
  • Are we making them aware where the bathroom/snacks or coffee are in our practice?
  • Is the back staff approaching the new patient and introducing themselves and their role as they bring them back?
  • Are we making sure we let the patient know where to put their purse, coat or other belongings as they are seated?
  • Is your team explaining every step as the patient is walked through the patient experience?
  • Are we making sure to check on the patient’s comfort throughout each appointment?

How are they enrolled in our Hygiene program?

  • Do you have a clear hygiene protocol?
  • Are we saving SRP and Perio Maintenance spots in our schedule?
  • Are we booking out at least two PM appointments?
  • Is there a protocol in place to take Intra oral photos on all new patients?

What does the exam/diagnosis process look like?

  • Are you calling out the treatment in dental terms to a hygienist or assistant?
  • Are you then sitting the patient up to discuss their needs in layman’s terms?
  • Are you taking time to ask what is most important to the patient?
  • Are you going into an exam in the last five or 10 minutes of the hygiene appointment?
  • Are you going in with at least 20 minutes to spare to ensure your financial coordinator has time to prepare a strong treatment plan?

How are we handing the patient hand off to the front desk?

  • Are we walking the patient up with the route slip and treatment plan at the same time?
  • Are we truly passing off the patient and treatment in a way that creates urgency?
  • Are we stating needs to the front office and giving them the time and information they need to complete the patient appointment?

What does the financial arrangement and scheduling of treatment look like?

  • Do you have a staff member that is comfortable with finances that is in charge of this system?
  • Are we fully trained on all third party financing that we offer?
  • Do we have a strong follow up system in place?
We have to over communicate with our patients and control their visit so they feel comfortable. A comfortable patient will overlook when the lab case isn’t back on time, or when the estimate doesn’t match the EOB. Most importantly, they will refer others that will trust you as well.  If you don’t have strong systems in place for controlling each step of a patient’s experience, I urge you to look closely at them. I truly believe that the difference between the million-dollar plus practice and the practice that is barely paying the bills, is the systems that are in place to control and provide a WOW patient experience. You too can have a well ran practice that feels like a well oiled machine and your key to getting there is control through systems.
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