As more practices than ever before move to introduce membership plans, Tina Wixon offers some suggestions as to how to make sure their patients remain plan members.
Retaining patients as plan members is about ensuring their loyalty to the practice. This can be done using a number of methods. However, fundamental to patient retention is making sure you attract the right type of patient for your practice initially.
Get the fundamentals right
Being on plan can help patients budget for their oral health maintenance and can be cost effective for them.
However, I encourage practices to steer away from talking about saving money when discussing plan membership with new patients. I suggest they ask patients to view it as an investment in their oral health. Long term it can help them to remain dentally fit and free from the pain and discomfort caused by compromised oral health. Isn’t that worth investing in?
Depending on where your practice is located, it may even be possible to make plan membership a condition of becoming a regular patient at your practice. Some of my customers include a line in their literature which states that cancellation of the plan will mean the patient is no longer entitled to make further appointments for treatment at the practice.
It may sound harsh, however, if you’re located in a so-called ‘dental desert’ there will be no shortage of patients willing to pay for membership to ensure they can be seen in an emergency, should they need it. Indeed, for many, one of the main benefits of being a plan member at a Practice Plan practice is the peace of mind that comes from knowing they will be seen in an emergency anywhere in the world thanks to the Worldwide Assistance Scheme.
Right patients for your practice
One way to ensure your plan patients stay with you is by attracting the right patients in the first place.
This process begins with your pricing structure. Your initial consultation fees should align with your charges. It’s counterproductive to set an initial consultation fee of £25 if you then charge £800 for a crown or £2,000 for your cheapest cosmetic treatment plan.
You may get hundreds of patients through your doors for an initial consultation. But it’s a waste of time and effort if only a handful of them return for treatment.
In most cases, the patient who shops around on price is unlikely to be right for you. That’s why I recommend practices publish their pricing structure and their plan fees. It saves both you and the patient time and helps filter out people who aren’t the right fit for your practice.
If a patient indicates they want to cancel their membership, try to find out why.
If it’s purely a question of cost, they could move onto a plan with a lower monthly fee. For example, if they pay for two dental examinations and two hygiene appointments annually, try offering them one dental examination and two hygiene appointments or even just one of each.
This will still mean they’re being seen regularly at the practice so their oral health can be maintained. But by reducing their number of appointments, the difference in cost may be sufficient for them to remain on plan.
Some practices actively choose to reduce the number of appointments dentally fit plan patients have with the dentist from two to one per year. This allows the dentist time to see more patients.
Although this may mean a reduction in the income from the individual plan patients, they are able to sign up additional ones who may want to take up treatment plans. This means income overall increases.
It’s worth taking some time to review your plans regularly to ensure your patients are on the right plan. Both for themselves and for you as a practice.
Remind patients of the benefits
It helps to remind patients what it means to be a plan member. If you have screens displaying information about your practice, have a slide outlining what they can expect from plan membership. If you have no TV screens, then make sure plan literature is displayed prominently. We can all become complacent sometimes and need a little reminder of when we’re well off!
Occasional special offers work well. Several of my practices email or text vouchers for discounted or money off treatments such as teeth whitening to existing plan members. These are usually well received by patients as they see it as a ‘perk’ of being a plan member. In addition to reminding them of the benefits of plan membership, it also helps with treatment uptake. It’s a tactic that’s especially useful to boost business at quiet times of the year, such as December.
Finally, never get involved in a price war with nearby practices. That just sets off a race to the bottom and does nobody any good. As long as your pricing structure is fair, then be confident of your own worth and stick with it. That way, you’ll attract the sort of patient you want at your practice. Someone who is happy to stick with you for the long term.