Keeping loyal patients in challenging times


  Posted by: Dental Design      15th October 2023

One of the biggest challenges for dental professionals right now is ensuring that patients keep attending regularly. Of course, it must be acknowledged that accessing NHS dentistry is impossible for millions of people all around the UK. Also, for thousands of others who can get an appointment with their local NHS or private practice, the cost of it, and any subsequent treatment, is reason enough not to book.

But patient loyalty has been harder to secure for some time. The internet has given all of us access to unlimited information, and increased the agency we have over our own health and wellbeing. You may have observed more people coming into the practice with expectations that, if they’re not met, don’t return. Even those who have attended for many years may choose to look elsewhere if they are unsatisfied, in any way, with the service you offer. They don’t necessarily need to be unhappy with you per se, it may just be that a different dentist can do the same thing cheaper, or quicker, or at a more convenient time.

We must see empowered patients as a positive thing. We know that these are people who are interested in their health, for one. They want to reduce their risk of disease, as well as keep their smile looking great. If someone comes to see you, and doesn’t get the answer they want, this can be the start of a better, more productive relationship. They may be armed with their own research, and have their own thoughts about the kind of treatment they need, but you’ll both get the best results if you work together. They need to know that you want to share your knowledge, and give them all the tools they require, in order to visit the practice less. In other words, you will help them prevent the problems that will lead to more complex dentistry.

Build loyalty by finding a way to meet patients in the middle. If they are asking for a treatment which, in your professional opinion, would not be appropriate, that is your opportunity to offer an alternative. If your practice is selling anything, it should be the concept of tailored, patient-focussed care. In return for their loyalty, patients will receive dentistry that takes into consideration their lifestyle and other behavioural factors. Tell them you want to find a solution that works for them, that they feel comfortable with. Encourage them to be honest with you, about how much time and money they are prepared to spend at the dentist. There is no point recommending something they won’t be able to afford but decisions based solely on cost can be a false economy too. Patients are in control, with the power to say “no” and walk away, but give them lots of reasons to say “yes”.

Patients, just like every consumer, want to know they are valued and important. Build flexibility into your processes, to make people’s lives easier and keep the lines of communication open. Virtual consultations are a legacy of the pandemic that many practices have continued to incorporate, for example. But a patient may prefer to talk to someone face-to-face – give them options. Treatment coordinators can help, as they offer a way to have good conversations with a non-clinical member of the team. Even without one, the message is, this isn’t about a single treatment, it’s about a lifetime of health. If you are able to get to know them, you will tailor their care as and when their needs change.

They need to know you’re fully focused on prevention and maintenance – stable, successful outcomes that are functional and beautiful. Along with showing them how to perform correct brushing, including daily interdental brushing to remove optimal plaque, preventive-maintenance may involve a high-quality supplementary product with your guidance. Recommend products that are so effective, they only need to be used for a designated time. Clinically-proven adjuncts will be backed by research, and discussing these should be part of the tailored service you offer. For example, for extra support in certain situations, suggest they use one of the Perio plus+ mouthwashes, which contain chlorhexidine (CHX), a well-known anti-plaque agent, and CITROX® a non-toxic, non-corrosive and hypoallergenic substance extracted from bitter oranges. This is a premium range which allows people to reap the benefits of natural ingredients in an alcohol-free solution, to protect the teeth and gums. Scenarios where a Perio plus+ mouthwash could be recommended include pre- or post-surgery, or if an individual has been assessed as being at a high-risk of disease.

Patient loyalty may be elusive, but practices can raise their game. They can listen, focus on creating ethical, tailored treatment plans and sell the idea that partnerships support the best long-term outcomes. The patient-practice-dentist dynamic may have shifted, but this is an unavoidable challenge of modern dentistry. Offer added value, and give people all the reasons to trust you with their care.

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