Retaining patients in your dental practice is just as important as acquiring new patients. Think about all the effort you put into acquiring new patients through numerous marketing strategies and by becoming contracted with insurance companies. To maintain and grow active patient numbers, your practice also needs to be putting effort in retaining established patients. 

Here are some ideas to help you keep the patients you already have.

Pre-Schedule Future Appointments

For hygiene recall appointments, try to pre-appoint patients as much as possible. This will help to avoid them slipping through the cracks when it comes to scheduling. Even if the patient is hesitant to schedule an appointment six months in the future, reassure them that they will receive appointment reminders through phone calls, email messages, or text messages. And if the day or time isn’t convenient, they can always reschedule. I especially recommend that patients who prefer a particular time schedule in advance. Many patients want the first appointment or the last appointment of the day because it’s more convenient with their work schedule. Those appointments tend to be popular, so I always try to pre-appoint those patients. 

Have a Plan to Contact Unscheduled Recall Patients 

For those patients who absolutely can’t pre-appoint their next hygiene appointment, you should have a solid system in place to follow up and make sure they get scheduled and stay on their recommended continuing care frequency. Use the Easy Dental Recall List to help you find those patients who haven’t scheduled return appointments. 

Know Your Patients

Personal relationships can help patients to want to stay with the same practice. A patient might say that he never wants to see a different hygienist because he loves the way the hygienist always remembers that he loves getting his teeth cleaned with the Cavitron, and the hygienist always asks about his son who plays football. 

Of course, it’s challenging to remember all these things about your patients, but when you do, it makes them feel special. Add Patient Notes to help remind you of personal details about each patient. Save a patient picture in Easy Dental to help you to put a face to the name of your patient. That way when the assistant goes to the waiting room to seat her patient, she can make eye contact with the patient, instead of looking around the waiting room, guessing who their patient is. The patient will feel like everyone in the office knows and cares about them. 

Perfect the Handoff

The handoff when dismissing a patient from the back office to the front desk is often where patients can get lost in the shuffle. It’s important that the clinical team communicate to the administrative team the procedures that were completed today and when the patient needs to return to the office. I like using Patient Route Slips or Patient Visit Forms for this. The procedures done at today’s visit can be noted on the Patient Route Slip or Patient Visit Form. This is helpful especially if the administrative team are on the phone or busy with another patient. The next visit information can also be noted here. When possible, the clinical team member should verbally hand the patient off, in addition to the written information. This reinforces the personal connection and emphasizes to the patient the importance of their next visit. 

For example, the hygienist could verbally handoff to the front desk by saying “Mrs. Smith is checking out for today. She’ll need to come back in six months for her continuing care, and Dr. Jones would like to see her within the next two weeks for her restorative treatment.” This will remind the patient of the need for her next appointments and create an easy transition for the administrative team to schedule those appointments. Allowing the patient to leave the office without this type of handoff can result in unscheduled treatment plans and unscheduled continuing care appointments.

These are just a few ideas to help you retain your established patients. By retaining the patients you already have, and acquiring new patients through various marketing techniques, your practice will continue to grow. Don’t lose patients by allowing them to slip through the cracks!


Charlotte Skaggs is the founder of Vector Dental Consulting LLC, a practice management firm focused on taking offices to the next level. Charlotte co-owned and managed a successful dental practice with her husband for 17 years. She has a unique approach to consulting based on the perspective of a practice owner.