Dentistry is a challenging career. Years of training, headache-inducing exams and a mountain of debt are all part of the dental starter package, yet many choose it as the path for them – so many, in fact, that the field is headed for saturation, according to some experts in North America. Here in Canada, the National Post reported on findings by R.K. House and Associates, consultants to the Ontario Dental Association, which point to an oversaturation of dentists in larger cities across the country. And the American Dental Association’s Health Policy Institute conducted their own analysis of dentist growth per capita, which they say “[suggests] that, at the aggregate level, the United States could be entering a period of expanding supply of dentists and flattening demand for dental care.”

As if your job needed to get harder.

With such an overabundance of dentists to choose from, patients have their pick of the litter. It’s a buyer’s market, which means standing out from the crowd is essential to both gaining and retaining patients. Because make no mistake, retention rates are also becoming a concern for the majority of dental practices. Writing for DentistryIQ, Theodore Schumann says statistics indicate “the average practice may lose as much as 10% of its patient base through normal attrition” – a terrifying number to contemplate, and one most mainstream businesses would run screaming from. So how do you combat the conjoined problems of market saturation and patient attrition?

Dental practice patient satisfaction questionnaires may be your answer.

Whilst we all like to think we’re doing a spectacular job at work, sometimes complacency sets in. It’s a natural part of work life that routine and repetition of the same tasks day in day out leads to less active concentration, and often a plateau or decline in standards over time. Even when performing at your very best, though, care recipients might disagree: as an article in the Australian Dental Journal notes, “reconciliation between possibly different perceptions of a clinical encounter between patient and practitioner” are one of the challenges patient satisfaction surveys hopes to counter. Additionally, as [article authors] recognize, “[s]urveys conducted by questionnaire are rapidly becoming the dominant method for measuring PCC”, or patient-centered care; in addition to improving patient loyalty, regular feedback may offer a reliable way to improve patient-centered care – a concept which a growing body of research has shown to have “positive impact on medical and clinical outcomes”.

By assessing the correlation between patient satisfaction scores and outcomes of treatment plans, practices can have measurable continuous improvement, and try to offset the impact of patient attrition. Indeed, feedback surveys have been used as part of national schemes in both Australia and the UK to improve overall standards of care within the industry and for accreditation purposes, demonstrating their usefulness to maintaining care standards over time.

Patient satisfaction surveys also assist with rapid, effective response to negative experiences, reducing the likelihood of provider switching and helping the patient feel understood. This may also increase the likelihood of attending recalls in a timely manner; more than one in ten US patients report they haven’t seen their dentist in over 5 years, increasing to nearly one in five for diabetic patients. It’s not clear if inactive patients are included in attrition statistics, but what we can say is that if they’re not in the chair, they aren’t keeping their oral health in good check, which is worse for both patient and dentist.

Whether you’re fresh out of school or an established veteran, patient loyalty is crucial to your success. By using surveys to measure patient perception of your practice, it is possible to improve both outcomes and retention. For best results, try automatic post-treatment surveys, for hassle-free, timely responses.

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