Dental Patient Retention: Keeping Your Patient Base During a Dental Transition

If you are considering buying or selling a practice, or bringing on an associate in anticipation of retirement, dental patient retention can be a problem during the best of times. Research suggests that, overall, dentists retain less than 41% of new patients—which represents a tremendous loss of potential revenue if the correct steps aren’t taken.

It’s not all bad news, however. The research also shows that, when handled carefully, the patient loss rate can be less than 10%. It simply requires some careful thought and planning. For your patients undergoing a transition in your dental practice, any change can be seen as a negative, so it is important to proactively work to maintain the loyalty and base that you have created.  

There are lots of things a dentist can do to keep patients, mostly centered around communication with patients, creating awareness of services, and expressing care for their well-being. While these are good for any practice to consider, a transition creates unique circumstances.  A loyal patient is often loyal to the dentist, not necessarily the office location the dentist works in. During the transition, it’s important that patients understand their expected level of care and that their customer service will not change.

The Transition is a Change of Dentist, not of Services, Costs, or Quality of Care

One thing you have in your favor is that people tend to want less change, not more. If their dentist is retiring, patients have two choices. They can either get a new dentist, which requires them to make the effort to find a new dentist and take a chance on whether they will be happy with the service and care that they get.  Or they can stay with the new associate at the office they know, with the staff they are familiar with. Of course, it’s much easier to stay with the new associate. With this in mind, you can focus your efforts on reassuring patients that they can expect the same range of services and quality of care that has kept them coming back.

Your retention efforts should be geared toward informing patients about what the transition is, and what it is not. It is a new dentist working in the office, probably alongside the owner dentist for at least a transition period. It can be a smooth transition without interruption of services, an increase in prices, or fluctuations in the quality of care. A transition is not an abandonment of patients, a reduction in services, or increase in prices.

Patients must know what they can expect. Some key points include:

  • Communication. A patient communication should go out after the sale that explains the transition in a way that will set patients at ease.  This is the first opportunity for the selling dentist to endorse the new associate, putting the selling dentist’s reputation and goodwill behind the new associate.  If possible, point out recent practice improvements or new capabilities and the benefits patients will enjoy as a result of the changes. While this requires some humility on the part of the retiring dentist, there is wisdom in emphasizing how the change may be a change for the better.
  • Quality of care. Patients return to a dentist they trust. Obviously, maintaining a high quality of care that will pleasantly surprise existing clients is critical, as this will likely be patients’ biggest concern. Maintaining a consistent level of quality of care will reassure patients that the trust they have in the selling dentist can be placed in the new associate—a significant aid in dental patient retention during transition.
  • Extra services. Consider extra service touches that may not cost much but will impress your patients. If there is any change to office hours, they should only be expanded, not reduced, around the time of the transition. Patients need to know that they won’t be losing anything in the transition that they have come to rely on in the past.
  • Branding. You’ve worked hard to establish your practice, earn the trust of your patients, and build a reputation in your community. All of these things are symbolized in your branding. And they are a big part of the value of your practice. Keeping the branding consistent will help keep the goodwill the selling dentist has worked hard to create.
  • Transition period. In general, it is recommended that the selling dentist stay with a practice during the transition for six or so months to ease the change. This will allow patients to get to know the new associate while still being treated by a familiar face. It will reassure them that they are in good hands with their new dentist.
  • Retain staff. It’s likely your patients spend more time with your staff (receptionists, billers, schedulers, hygienists) than they do with you. A change in office personnel can do as much to unsettle patients as the change in dentists. Encourage and, if possible, incentivize, your office staff to commit to stay on well through the transition period. They will also be invaluable to the new associate as they meet and interact with patients and learn the established office procedures.

Dental Patient Retention During Transition Depends on Expert Advice and a Clear Plan

Whatever you do, it’s important to have a dental patient retention plan from the outset. While you probably never have transitioned out of a practice before, the experts at ddsmatch Southwest have helped many satisfied dentists with their transitions, and you can leverage that experience for your own success. We’ve developed a tool specifically for this purpose, the Clinical Treatment Analyzer™, that will show both the buyer and seller new opportunities for the practice, as well as potential issues that may arise to help you create a solid plan to keep your customers.  

Put the experience of dentists from all over the country who have successfully transitioned their practices to work for you. Whether you are considering buying or selling a practice, contact us today for a free consultation and find out what we can do for you.