Learning from our Mistakes

One of the most common measures for the success of a dental practice is the number of new patients we see. There almost seems to be a competition amongst us to see who can bring in more new patients. I have always had a problem with that; I hear about practices seeing 50, 100 or more new patients in one month. How is that possible? That kind of growth would mean you would need a new dentist provider in the practice every six to 12 months, as one dentist cannot properly care for that many people. What I suspected is that as fast as some of these practices are filling up the front door, there may be an equal number leaving out the back door. Is anyone measuring that? I think we should.

Why do people leave a dental practice? Patients leave because they have died, they have moved far enough away that seeing you for regular care is too much of a burden, or for some other reason. The first two are completely understandable. When I am informed that a patient has left the practice for one of these reasons, I don’t question it. However, when someone leaves my practice to see another dentist within the same city, I do wonder what happened. In these cases, we always conduct an exit interview.

Most people do not like conflict, and when a patient leaves a dental practice, they don’t want to be confronted. Asking someone why they have left the practice puts the recipient of the question on the defensive, so we never ask why.

First, we figure out who the best person is to call the patient who has left the practice. We try to determine which member of the team had the best, most amicable, relationship with that patient, and sometimes that person is me. That team member then calls the patient. “Mr. Jones, we have received a request to transfer your dental records to another dental office. I want to let you know that we have complied with this request and would like to ask if you could help us with something.”

At this point the patient almost always agrees. Then we ask if there was something we did, or did not do, that lead to their decision to seek dental care elsewhere.

No longer are we asking why. We are asking what did we do, or not do. This has been very illuminating. Sometimes we learn it is the behavior of a specific member of the team, or a way a financial transaction was handled. When it is something that is tangible, and not just emotional, we collect this information and share it with the team at the next team meeting. We use this information not to point fingers at team members for being bad, but rather to discuss how this can help us be a better team and slow the leak of patients leaving.

It has been a powerful learning tool. As we have employed this over the years, the number of people who leave is now one third the number of new patients. So we see three new patients for every one that leaves.

One last thing we do when we are on the phone with the newly departed patient is that we thank them for giving us the opportunity to care for their oral health. We tell them that if there is anything we can do to assist them with their health care at any time in the future, our door is always open. We have had these patients say, “Wow,” and a remarkable number have returned to our practice, as they don’t get the caring service that we had provided them in our office.

Try this and let me know what kinds of responses you get as well. It’s not just about how many new patients you get each month, it is the number of net new patients that is a real measure of growth.

Back to the grind…

Warm regards,
Larry Stanleigh, DDS

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