Sheri's Solutions: The patient exit interview

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"When patients leave, how do you find out why they are departing the practice?"

The question for the ages! As we would all love to know why people leave our practices, for the most part, we may never know the whole truth. The majority of patients leave for two reasons: money and benefit changes. Even with all the financial discussion about cost and investment, some patients do not see the value of dental care. With the quick fix of a Living Social or Groupon "cleaning," there is a group of patients who feel they are able to get dental "care" cheaper and on demand. After all, it is just a cleaning and why pay so much? Some patients do not want to establish a relationship with a dentist and will pop from practice to practice.

Sheri B. Doniger, DDS.Sheri B. Doniger, DDS.
Sheri B. Doniger, DDS.

Patients get upset when they have to pay for dental care, and some are not inclined to pay their balances. The higher probability of a patient departing the practice will occur when there is a higher outstanding balance. Even the best practices with the best financial policies and business managers have difficulty collecting from some patients. These are the most likely to depart with an overdue account. Patients also leave because they don't agree to our practice philosophy or treatment schedule.

Others just disappear from our schedules. It is not from lack of trying. Our business manager, hygienist, or assistant attempts to reschedule patients, but to no avail. I was recently at a seminar. The speaker indicated that we should not try to chase after patients who are not willing to schedule or cancel frequently. Those will just acquiesce to the caller and not show up for the appointed time. Do we truly need these practice fillers if they only frustrate us by never keeping their appointments?

Some patients may have the courtesy to let you know they are leaving and, when questioned, do not respond with the reason for departure. Some of these patients who depart are a surprise. You thought they were happy with the practice. Was it fees? Perceived value of dentistry is all across the board. Time schedules? Potentially their work has changed and they are not allowed to come in during the week.

Exit interviews are so beneficial to correcting perceived issues in the practice, but, for the most part, patients when they are finished with a practice will rarely comply with such a review. In a perfect world, although it would be great to have an exit "interview" or survey, most patients, unless they have a change in dental benefit or they move out of the area, will not let you know why they leave.

Sheri B. Doniger, DDS, practices clinical dentistry in Lincolnwood, IL. She is currently vice president and president-elect of the American Association of Women Dentists and editor of the American Association of Women Dentists "Chronicle" newsletter. She has served as an educator in several dental and dental hygiene programs, has been a consultant for a major dental benefits company, and has written for several dental publications. You can reach her at [email protected].

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