Free article: Successful patient retention

Vikki Searle offers some advice on the best way to retain your patients.


  • A dental practice needs to emphasise the importance of regular dental appointments and arrange recall appointments in advance.
  • An effective patient journey involving every member of the dental team is vital to retaining patients.
  • If the journey is good, patients will return again and again and are more likely to recommend the practice to their family and friends.
  • Promotional messages such as posters, leaflets and educational videos in the waiting area, with details of selected treatments to generate interest from patients, have the potential to increase visits.
  • For specialist dental treatment centres offering endodontics, orthodontics, prosthodontics or implants, referrals come from other dental practices. This involves building trusting working relationships with other professionals to offer patients the best care possible.

In a challenging economic climate, consumers are reducing their spend on all manner of things from luxuries to essentials – and that includes dental care. It is becoming harder for dental practices to attract new patients, which is why patient retention is so important. The consistent health of the business depends on your existing patients and, unless you have reliable recall strategies in place, they may delay treatment or, worse, go elsewhere.

Recall systems

Your recall system needs to be robust and bespoke to each patient. A large part of successfully retaining patients is about educating them. If patients do not know why or when they should return to the surgery, there is a good chance that they won’t. The practice needs to emphasise the importance of regular dental appointments. If recall appointments are arranged in advance, half the battle is already won.

Ideally a practice should aim to retain over 70% of its patients month on month. You need an efficient recall system in place so that exact figures can be reviewed quickly and easily.

Patient journey

The single most important aspect of patient retention is an effective patient journey. This involves every member of the dental team, from the first contact the patient makes with the practice, throughout treatment, to when they are called for subsequent follow-up appointments. Every team member has an important part to play, and a practice manager’s role is to maintain consistently high standards, motivate the team and recognise any training needs. If the journey is good, patients will feel confident that they are in the best possible hands and will return again and again. Not only that, they are more likely to recommend the practice to their family and friends.

Internal marketing

Internal marketing strategies can be used to retain patients. For example, promotional on-hold messages, posters, leaflets or educational videos in the waiting area with details of selected treatments such as whitening or orthodontics can generate interest and have the potential to increase visits. Remember: repeat customers tend to spend more as time passes because they develop relationships and rapport. Therefore, if efforts are focused on marketing and communicating to existing patients, you are likely to see more requests for further treatments. Nevertheless, a practice cannot rely on existing patients alone and should encourage recommendations to attract new patients.

Refer a friend

Most practices that have good patient retention are likely to have a refer-a-friend system in place. The benefit of this is that word-of-mouth is the most reliable and successful way of marketing and, even better, it’s free! Personal recommendations are made on trust and this transfers to the new patient/dentist relationship right from the start. If patient retention is poor, however, practices need to spend more time and money on attracting new patients and it takes much longer to build that trusting relationship.

Patient referrals

For specialist referral practices such as the London Smile Clinic, more of the marketing spend is allocated externally to reach referring dentists who may not otherwise know what the practice can offer. Again, this involves building trusting working relationships with other professionals to offer patients the best dental treatments and care possible.

At the London Smile Clinic, our team ensures that not only does the patient have an exceptional journey, the referring dentist does too. Communication between professionals is kept open and referring dentists are involved throughout the entire process. This means that the patient is aware that any complex treatment – be it in endodontics, orthodontics, prosthodontics or implants – will carried out by the highly qualified London Smile Clinic dentists, but it still remains under the direction of their own practitioner. The relationship between practices is symbiotic; referring dentists have a reliable centre of excellence with which they can extend treatments and expertise, but importantly, they know that their patients will be returned for on-going maintenance and further dental care.

Maintaining an active patient base

Maintaining the active patient base of the practice is imperative for the financial health of the business. Every patient represents a network of family and friends. Any loss could result not just in a drop in revenue but also in lack of growth of the practice within the community. If a patient is lost, there may not be a replacement knocking on the door and there is the added expense of marketing and attracting new patients to consider as well.

An effective recall system is imperative but it is also important to assess the practice regularly and target the needs of your patients. Find out what treatments patients want and ensure that the expertise of your practice is kept in the forefront of their minds. There may be a need for some changes – a new staff member, further training, additional equipment or the extension of specialist dental skills. As all dental practice managers know, providing outstanding customer service and high-quality dental care are the essentials, and if these are managed successfully, patients will continue to visit your practice for all their oral healthcare needs.

About the author

Vikki SearleVikki Searle is a practice manager who has worked in dentistry for nearly 11 years, performing management roles for seven years. She has previously worked as an area manager looking after five branches of mixed and private practices. Vikki joined the London Smile Clinic as practice manager in October 2016. For more information, please contact 020 7255 2559 or visit

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