This blog entry is inspired by Larry Stanleigh’s great post on patient exit interviews. One of the rewards of reading and writing for this blog is that we are constantly learning from one another. Sometimes, when I read one of my fellow blogger’s entries, it inspires me to write. Thank you, Larry.
I look at the problem of learning why patients leave a practice from a different angle. Instead of asking patients why they left my office, I ask them why they left their previous office. Patients (and dentists) often are more comfortable with this approach. I find that patients are more forthcoming because they don’t feel that they will hurt your feelings. You’ll get a greater number of honest answers. Believe me, you’ll learn what NOT to do in your practice. They’ll tell you things they would never tell their previous dentist.
I usually say something benign like, “What brings you here?” or “Tell me about your last dental visit.” or “Who was your last dentist?” I’m not a big fan of scripts. Just ask in a manner that seems natural for you.
Sure, you’ll get the usual responses, like how the patient just moved to your area. Some responses, however, have surprised me. My favorite is when patients tell me that they just absolutely loved their previous dentist. They tell me about how great he or she was, how their kids loved that office, and how caring the staff was. They brag about how the dentist just about walked on water. My question naturally is, “Then why are you here?”
Are you ready for the response? C’mon, you can see it coming. You’ve heard it many times before! “We had to change offices because my dentist no longer accepted my insurance.” Man, I could write a whole blog on this one alone!
Sometimes the patient responds that the dentist became very involved in the local dental society, or that he or she became a busy lecturer. The biggest complaint from the patient, then, is that the dentist was never in the office. Let’s face it: Patients want you to be available when they need you. Sure, they are happy for you when you move up the political ladder, but they’ll soon be looking for a new dentist. Lecturing across the country? Patients think that’s cool—and they’ll be happy to brag about you to their new dentist.
Another reason I’ve heard is that the practice was sold because the dentist retired. I get new patients from that, too. Believe me, I make absolutely no effort to bring those patients into my practice. Ideally, patients will stay with the new dentist. However, I usually hear the same concern: The dentist who bought the practice is just too young. I can really relate to this since I, too, was once a young dentist. But the good news is that, over time, that problem corrects itself. If you observe most practices, the average patient age tends to be close to that of the dentist. If an older dentist sells to a much younger dentist, there will be some patient loss.
Some of the above reasons are not ones that patients may want to tell you. How many times have you told someone they are too young or too old to treat you? Not many, I bet. You just quietly move on.
I agree with Larry that exit interviews can prove valuable in the rare cases in which people actually will be honest with you. I have found that learning why people are now in your office can prove to be just as informative.
Andy Alas, DDS