A steady influx of new patients is vital for any dental practice, but your practice’s real lifeblood is your existing patients. They trust you to take care of them year after year, they write your positive Google reviews, and they refer more great patients to your practice.
The Harsh Truth
Sadly enough, an average dental practice loses almost 18% of their patients annually due to attrition. If your active patient base is 1,500 patients, you are losing nearly 250 active patients every year! According to the ADA, the average value of a dental patient is $553 per year. At this rate, you are losing nearly $140K annually due to attrition. Unless you are attracting well over 20 new patients every month, your practice is not growing…it is shrinking.
As we know, recall is extremely important. It is more expensive to bring a new patient into the practice than to keep an old, loyal patient. And with an average broken appointment rate of 15%, we lose another fifty to sixty thousand dollars annually due to broken hygiene appointments. Filling last-minute cancellations and reappointing patients is critical. The more time that goes by from a patient’s last visit, the harder it is to get them back. But the problem is that most dental practices don’t have a well-defined system to prevent patients from falling through the cracks, and there is never enough time to “work the recall.” There are many interruptions with the phones constantly ringing and patients checking in and out.
A typical scheduling coordinator in a dental practice is comparable to an octopus who requires a big head and eight arms to tend to everything that lands in front of her. She must swim through the practice and anticipate potential practice predators, AKA patient problems, and squirt her ink to repel them.
And let’s be honest, nobody likes to “work the recall” because calling patients is time-consuming and can be demoralizing when the team is unsuccessful in reaching patients or met with resistance.
The Recall Solution
That being said, how do we create a robust Continuous Care Program in our practices? Let’s explore the five key steps to ensure that your schedule is full and your patients keep coming back.
1. Schedule patients while they are still in the office
Some practices strive to pre schedule 100% of their patients. But pre-appointing every patient is not the best strategy. 20% of your patients cause 80% of your cancellations (don’t say we didn’t tell you!). Do not pre schedule patients who frequently waste your precious time by breaking appointments. Only pre-appoint your reliable patients, and let others know that they will receive a reminder from your office when it is time to schedule. YAPI can streamline this by automatically identifying patients who frequently break appointments with a visual alert, which saves your team a lot of time.
If a patient is hesitant about pre scheduling, I like to respond with, “Does this time usually work for you? We can schedule for the same day and time six months from now. Please let us know as we need to make changes when you get a reminder because our best appointment times fill up very quickly.”
2. Automate your outreach efforts
Automation helps you schedule your low-hanging fruit patients who want to come in. It often takes multiple touches to connect with patients before they make an appointment. Your automated follow-up system must be consistent but not overbearing. YAPI helps practices fill their schedule and last minute cancellations with a powerful and fully customizable sequence of follow-up messages to reach every patient. Combined with an automated ASAP list and Online Scheduling, your team can fill last-minute appointment holes in your schedule with minimal effort.
3. Appoint one of your scheduling coordinators as a hygiene coordinator
Given sufficient time and the right resources, your hygiene coordinator will be responsible for bringing your patients back and filling last-minute openings. At YAPI, we created something called Recall Manager, which helps hygiene coordinators shine. With Recall Manager, your hygiene coordinator will be able to reach out to unresponsive patients and help them find their way back on the schedule. She can also view due and past-due unscheduled patients, see when and what kind of automated messages they received, as well as see patients with outdated contact information. My favorite part of this is that a hygiene coordinator can filter this list by the last reminder date. Using this filter, your hygiene coordinator can follow up with patients who recently received a reminder but haven’t responded. Imagine what happens when you follow up on your automated but ignored text with a personal phone call?! Sending an automated reminder text puts your practice at the top of their mind. They meant to call you, but now you are calling them, and they are happy to hear from you. Instead of chasing after patients and feeling demoralized, your hygiene coordinator is more effective and feels good about her work.
4. Teach your team strong verbal skills that help them overcome excuses that patients offer when they don’t schedule
Patients usually don’t keep appointments when they feel that their objections haven’t been addressed. It could be related to cost, fear, time, or some unresolved issue from their last appointment. The real objection is not always the same as the excuse they give you. Your team must learn how to recognize these objections, ask the right questions to identify their concerns, and have the right verbal skills to overcome these objections to get the patients back on the schedule. If you are looking for a way to help your team learn some powerful verbal skills, check out dental hero Sandy Pardue’s company for some amazing tips and training.
5. Don’t schedule your patients too far in advance
The longer they wait, the more likely they will cancel as their motivation subsides. If you tend to book too far in advance, use the ASAP scheduling tool in YAPI to identify patients who want to come in sooner and automatically reach out to them to fill last-minute changes on your schedule. Also, allow patients to text your practice using two-way text, and start utilizing Online Scheduling and Online Patient Portal to make it easy for your patients to schedule their appointments. Using Online Scheduling by YAPI, patients will be able to schedule appointments even when your practice is closed. It will save your team a lot of time to focus on patients and create a pleasant and personalized experience for everyone who calls or comes to the practice.
The Bottom Line: A Strong Recall System is Needed
Don’t put your recall on auto-pilot. By automating some tasks to save your team’s time, and proactively reaching out to patients who need a more personalized approach, you can keep your patients coming back to you like clock-work year after year, and gain more great patients to your practice. Click here to learn more about YAPI.