Losing patients in the dental industry is never a good thing, but it's especially true in today’s competitive climate where maximizing practice schedule capacity is a pressing concern. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), 40% of practices had trouble filling seats due to a lack of patients booking appointments. At the same time, 14 million people enrolled in Medicaid in the U.S. recently lost their dental coverage when the COVID-19 public health emergency declaration came to a close in April 2023.
But insurance is just one barrier that could be contributing to patient attrition. To understand how practices can boost patient retention, it’s crucial to look at the bigger picture, from economics to the patient journey.
Bracing for Financial Hardships
Despite the end of the emergency declaration, the dental industry is still recovering, and many dentists are becoming disillusioned. Between 2022 and 2023, the ADA reports dentists had a 5% drop in confidence for their individual practices; the sector as a whole; and more broadly, the U.S. economy. And it’s easy to see why; 2022 saw record-breaking inflation peaking at over 9% while staff shortages, rising costs and low patient demand caused a turbulent year for dental profits. But what role did patient attrition play in all of this, and how much does it really cost in the long run?
Understanding Patient Attrition Rates
Before we can calculate how much it costs to lose and replace each patient, it’s important to understand the basics of patient attrition. On average, dental offices have an attrition rate of around 17% (although this number often ranges from 10% up to around 40% by most industry estimates). Assuming an average patient base of 1,500 patients for a solo practice and an attrition rate of 20%, that’s around 300 patients leaving your office per year (or ~25 each month). Do you know your practice’s attrition rate?
How Much Does It Cost to Lose a Patient?
Just as each patient provides revenue to your practice, each loss represents a decrease in cash flow. To find out the exact cost per lost patient, it’ll take some estimation and assumptions.
First, the most recent ADA data suggests a mean profit per patient visit of $56. Assuming the average patient schedules just one checkup appointment every six months, that’s $112 in profit per patient, per year.
Using the example patient body and attrition rate from above, we can multiply $112 by 300 lost patients per year to get $33,600 in lost profits—and that’s not to mention the cost of finding and closing new patients to make up for these losses.
The average dental clinic will spend about $150 to $300 in marketing and wages for each patient acquisition. If a practice loses about 300 patients a year, it'll need to acquire the same amount just to maintain its size. That can lead to high acquisition costs of anywhere between $450,000 to $900,000 per year without even considering growth and expansion.
So, what can dentists do to improve their patient retention rate and continue expanding?
How to Retain Your Patients
The first step to retaining your patient body is understanding what your attrition rate is. Once you understand that, you can set goals and performance milestones to measure your progress as you put a plan in motion. But what kind of strategies can practices employ to keep their patients loyal?
Effective communication plays a pivotal role in not just retaining patients but building long-lasting relationships with them as well. By clearly articulating treatment details, being empathetic and listening to patients, dentists can foster trust and confidence in their care. When patients feel valued in this way, it leads to higher satisfaction and loyalty.
Another key area dentists can focus on is the convenience of the patient experience. Do you offer online booking? What about a virtual waiting room? It’s crucial to respect the patient’s time and minimize unnecessary waiting. Beyond that, dentists should strive to create a comfortable and inviting practice environment where patients are able to relax.
Both communication and convenience are in service of the much more meaningful goal of connection. It’s one thing to provide excellent clinical care but offering a human touch of personalization can go a long way in boosting loyalty and retention. For instance, offices can use text messaging to share birthday messages or simply offer tips for healthy hygiene habits.
Fueling Growth for Your Dental Practice
Beyond just boosting retention, dentists are often concerned about growing their practices, whether in patient volume, service specialties or both. Here are three ways you can do both without sacrificing efficiency or productivity:
1. Help Patients Save Costs
Empowering patients with access to affordable oral health care is paramount. Talk with patients and educate them about potential cost-saving options. If they don’t have insurance, you could work with them on a payment plan or offer in-house practice membership or dental savings plans for discounted services.
2. Streamline Administrative Processes
Practices can also look toward internal processes to help mitigate attrition and boost retention. By implementing efficient software solutions that can automate time-consuming tasks like appointment scheduling, billing and insurance claims, you can save time for their staff and patients. Not only does this create a more convenient experience, but the added efficiency enables your practice to accommodate a greater volume of patients.
3. Reactivate Old or Lost Patients
Finally, your practice can reach out to past patients, whether they left with notice or dropped off the face of the earth. Everybody gets busy and after a while, they might just forget to set up another appointment, especially if nothing is obviously wrong. Personalized emails or phone calls can help remind these lost contacts that it’s past time for a check-up.
How Sensei Helps You Keep Your Patients
Sensei Cloud is a revolutionary dental practice management software platform designed by and for dentists. Learn how it can help you unlock the full potential of your practice and boost patient retention rates.
Request a demo today.