Patient retention in hygiene

Sept. 1, 2003
In his best-selling book, Good to Great, Jim Collins and his group of researchers studied companies who had gone from "good" to "great," based on specific criteria.

Cathy Jameson, PhD

In his best-selling book, Good to Great, Jim Collins and his group of researchers studied companies who had gone from "good" to "great," based on specific criteria. One of those criteria was that these "great" companies clearly defined their "profit point" or "economic engine." They were very clear about the point at which their work moved from "covering overhead" to being "profitable."

In your dental practice, there are numerous ways to reach "profit points:" Delegating responsibility, maximizing talent, increasing case acceptance, and focusing on doing comprehensive dentistry on a few people rather than doing a little bit of dentistry on a "gazillion" people.

One of your most critical "profit points" is patient retention in the hygiene department. Here, you help people become and stay healthy; make sure the restorations you have provided are without problems; educate patients about the benefits of going ahead with treatment that has not been completed; and introduce them to new possibilities such as implants or cosmetic dentistry.

It costs less to nurture an existing patient than it does to generate a new one. This is a part of the "profit point" concept in your practice. Ask yourself this question: "Are we having more people fall through the cracks each month than we are accessing new patients?" If so, you probably feel your practice is plateauing and you are putting yourself under unnecessary stress. You may feel that you have to constantly generate huge numbers of new patients to fill those gaps in the schedule when, in reality, more dentistry is sitting in your charts waiting to be scheduled.

If you develop a system of hygiene retention where people are not falling through the cracks — but are coming to you on a regular basis — you will be able to move more of these patients into a comprehensively restored state. Repetition is the key to learning! When patients come to you on a regular basis through hygiene, one of the most important parts of that appointment is to show them (on the intraoral camera) the next area of necessary treatment or the possibilities that are available to them. Never stop giving a person a chance to become totally restored or more beautiful. The key to a healthy, profitable practice is not so much the number of new patients (although, certainly, new patients are a must), but rather how many patients are saying "yes" to full treatment plans.

When a doctor tells me that he or she is seeing a huge number of new patients per month, I have to wonder about several things:

1.How are you providing a comprehensive oral evaluation for so many patients, carefully planning the case, and presenting it excellently during a scheduled consultation?

2. Are you following up on dentistry diagnosed, but left untreated?

3. Are you focusing on maintaining people in your practice once they have entered it as a new patient ... or are patients coming and going at equal levels?

4. Are you rolling out the red carpet for all patients ... or just the new ones?

5. Are you aware of the considerable costs and the low profit margins of a high-volume practice? If so, are you managing that carefully?

Each month, calculate your percentage of dental hygiene retention by dividing the number of patients who were seen in a certain month by the number who were due in that month. Then continue this calculation throughout the year. For example, add the retention percentage for January and February, then divide that by two, and that will give you your year-to-date retention percentage. Keep that up on an ongoing basis throughout the year. The monitoring of a system will let you know if it is working well or if it needs some refinement. If you are not retaining 85 to 90 percent of your active patient family in the hygiene department, then you have a glitch in your system ... and it needs attention!

Approximately 40 to 60 percent of most restorative dentistry comes out of hygiene visits. Hygiene productivity can be approximately one-third of the total practice productivity. Plus, a hygiene appointment is the best time to provide patient education and introduce them to new possibilities.

With those things in mind, realize the powerful "profit point" at work in your hygiene department. Don't neglect this critical system. It is essential in your continuous effort to elevate your practice to the next level.

Cathy Jameson, PhD, is president of Jameson Management, Inc., an international dental lecture and consulting firm. She has been a featured speaker for the major dental meetings throughout the world and is an adjunct faculty member of the Oklahoma University School of Dentistry and an associate professor at the NYU College of Dentistry. Her books, Great Communication = Great Production and Collect What You Produce are top sellers for PennWell Books. Contact Dr. Jameson at (580) 369-5555, or email [email protected].

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