Patient retention key to success

Feb. 1, 2003
Why do some hygiene departments produce more than others? Do they see more patients? Do more procedures?

Annette Ashley Linder, BS, RDH

Why do some hygiene departments produce more than others? Do they see more patients? Do more procedures? Is the overall practice larger so that more patients are available? Do they work longer hours? Is the team more dedicated and efficient?

Having spent the past 15 years "on the road" as both a speaker and consultant, I will share with you in this series of articles what I see "working" in successful practices throughout the country. The potential is huge, and it doesn't take rocket science to establish a hygiene department that is both clinically excellent and highly profitable.

Hygiene is not a loss leader. Proven systems are available for maximizing hygiene. The first step is getting down to basic requirements and knowing the numbers. New patients are essential for practice growth and profitability, but a strong recall system determines the long-term stability of the dental practice. Those practices with no system and no one responsible for patient retention (patients walk in the front door, but slide out the back door) consistently struggle to keep the hygiene and doctor schedules filled. The most ironic part is that many of the "overdue" patients are the ones with the thickest charts of all. These patients know and trust the practice and accept treatment recommendations.

My personal-consulting experience with practices in every part of the country demonstrates that most practices operate at a 50 to 60 percent rate of recall effectiveness — and they don't even know it! Often, it takes six months to a year before anyone even notices that the doctor and hygiene schedules have slowed or, at best, are very erratic. As one doctor who called me recently said: "My hygiene department and patient recall are hemorrhaging — I need help!"

What gets measured gets done. Use the following formula to monitor the health of patient retention (recall) and to establish benchmarks for the practice.

• What is my (core) active patient base? An active patient typically is defined as one that has received at least two hygiene appointments in the past 18 to 24 months.

• How many patients should we see annually in hygiene to maintain this patient base?

• How many hygiene days/ hours do I need to meet core patient-base requirements? A basic model would be: 1,500 patients x 2 (twice per year recall) = 3,000 plus 250 new patients annually = 3,250 patients. (Multiply by 85 percent effectiveness to get a real number. Patients do leave the practice). Annual patients needed to stay healthy in recall = 2,762. Some offices add 20 percent to account for perio appointments. Take the 2,762 patients and divide by annual hygiene days in the practice. For example, if there are 200 hygiene days per year, then 13.8 patients per day need to be seen just to maintain the recall. You then can begin to determine how many hygienists or hygiene hours you need to accommodate this patient volume.

• Run an initial recall-reliability formula and establish the baseline. Review every quarter to determine if you are on target. Do not wait until the end of the year to find out that half of your patients have not been seen.

• Designate a team member as patient retention (recall) coordinator. This person should be accountable on a daily basis for a full hygiene schedule.

• Report the recall effectiveness at your monthly staff meeting to assure that you stay on goal.

Getting the dentistry out of the chart and into the mouth begins by maintaining a sound recall and patient-retention program. In future articles, I will outline the steps necessary to develop a winning recall system that moves patients beyond "I only want what insurance pays for!"

Annette Ashley Linder, BS, RDH, is a recognized leader in the field and an award-winning speaker and consultant. Since 1989, she has presented more than 250 seminars and consulted in dental practices throughout the world. She is a featured speaker at dental meetings and provides in--office consulting services with her team of business and clinical consultants. She may be reached at her Web site at AnnetteLinder.com, via email at [email protected], or by phone at (804) 745-6015.

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