Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials Are Quick to Switch Dentists: What Can You Do About It?

September 14, 2017    By Becky Sheetz ()

Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials Are Quick to Switch Dentists: What Can You Do About It?

Patient loyalty has long been a major concern for dentists. While that will remain the case for a while, recent trends point to some ongoing shifts that dentists should recognize. And just as importantly for the health of your practice, you should know what to do about these changes. These aren’t future predictions, but rather actual developments in patient behavior that are occurring right now.

Recent health care studies have pointed to behavioral changes as baby boomers retire and millennials populate more of the workforce. But what impact are these changes, along with Generation X trends, having on the dental industry in particular?

Solutionreach, a patient relationship management company, published a 2017 survey, The Patient-Provider Relationship Study: The Ripple Effect Starts with Boomers, which addressed the question, “What do patients really want?” This survey provides excellent insight into what patients are looking for in providers, with a fixed eye on the impact of generational factors.  

The research spanned four distinct practice specialties: primary care, ophthalmology, dermatology and—of greatest importance to us—dentistry. Almost 2,100 health care consumers were interviewed across millennial (ages 21 to 34), Generation X (ages 35 to 51) and baby boomer (ages 52 to 70) demographic cohorts.

Several key findings from the survey provide insight and analyses that dentists should recognize. Read on to discover what your practice can do to mitigate the dangers that will accompany certain changes, and take advantage of the opportunities created.

It’s no longer enough for dentists to provide the highest-quality care and clinical excellence
We know that that is a difficult proverbial pill to swallow, particularly for the best of the best dentists who truly value outstanding patient care. But the harshness of this fact doesn’t make it any less true.

As patients become responsible for a greater and greater share of their medical bills, they increasingly approach their health care decisions with what the Solutionreach study describes as a more “retail-oriented mindset.” In a major shift from just a decade ago, patients want the same conveniences, access and responsiveness from their health care providers that they are used to with other services and products they purchase. Dentists can benefit greatly from learning how to manage this new dynamic.

While patients still expect outstanding service and care, they need to like and trust the dentist and the staff. But that is not all that they want. Most millennials report that lack of convenience is a top motivator for them to change dentists.

Most millennials report that lack of convenience is a top motivator for them to change dentists.

Think about how significant that data point is for your dental practice. Ask yourself: Is facilitating convenience for your patients as big a priority for your office and staff as it is for the patients you serve? If you’re not sure of the answer to that question, conduct an informal poll: Ask the next 10 patients you examine, across generations, how your practice could be more convenient for them. You may find some common themes. For example, they may tell you they would prefer extended hours, greater ease of making appointments, better parking access or quicker returned telephone calls.

Asking this question could yield some very interesting findings. Patient convenience is not an option for today’s successful dental practices. It is mandatory. Remember, top-quality dental care alone is simply not enough anymore. To build and sustain a healthy, vibrant practice, you need to deliver on your patients’ expectations for quality care, along with emphasizing the convenience and ease of working with you.

And don’t be surprised or offended if patients want to negotiate fees or discuss payment plans. Increasingly, patients want flexibility and have a new set of expectations when it comes to health and dental care. The more you follow these trends, the better you’ll be able to respond to them and best serve your patients.

Top reasons patients switch providers
Besides changes in insurance and moving, there are many reasons dental patients switch care providers. The good news is that these are factors your practice can directly influence. Across specialties, the Solutionreach study found that patients identify quite a few logistical issues as sources of dissatisfaction with their practices:

Convenience—critical to the health and growth of your dental practice—encompasses several of the concerns listed above. Keep tabs on your progress with regard to these findings. For millennials in particular, these five factors are critical to their decision to change dentists.

Communication before, during and after care is more critical than ever
The way your practice communicates plays a big role in your patients’ decision to continue to trust you with their dental care.

Patients have high standards and various requirements for correspondence. They are used to quick, easy and responsive communications. Patients have different preferences for how their dentist and doctors contact them for appointment reminders, alerts and follow-ups. Some prefer text messages, others prefer e-mails or telephone calls, and some prefer a mix of the three. Regardless of the means, patients across all three generations want communication before, during and after care.

Dental patient newsletters are a valuable touchpoint
This survey points to the importance of patient touchpoints. Although the research focused on how patients like to receive appointment and scheduling reminders, regular and ongoing patient interactions outside of treatment plans are also critical. A dental newsletter allows you to maintain contact with your patients in a meaningful way: with relevant dental information and tips that will benefit recipients and their families. Patient newsletters are not a self-serving marketing method for dental practices; rather, they are useful, relevant, easy tools to teach your patients about oral health.

A dental newsletter keeps you in contact with your patients in a meaningful way: with relevant dental information and tips that will benefit recipients and their families.

Savvy dentists never underestimate the importance of showing patients that they value them. That is why we recommend newsletters as a systematic, ongoing method of patient communication that is education focused. This reiterates to your patients that they matter to you, and it keeps your practice top-of-mind.

Staying top-of-mind is especially important for inactive patients. If they have allowed their treatments to lapse significantly, these patients probably do not receive appointment reminders. This group certainly needs ongoing notices from their dental practice. Newsletters gently prompt your patients to resume a healthy treatment schedule. An article concerning tooth sensitivity, for example, may catch the attention of a patient who has been experiencing increased sensitivity, who will then make an appointment. An article about healthy teeth for patients with diabetes may motivate a newly diagnosed diabetic patient to schedule a visit to get his or her oral health back on track.

Touching base with patients is critical to the health of your dental practice, and a newsletter is an ideal tool for all generations.

Metrics on changing providers by generation
Here are some sobering facts: Millennials switch health care providers at a rapid rate; 43% are likely to switch practices in the next few years, and 54% have already made a switch in the past two to three years. This high rate of transition is very important for dentists to note.

On the other hand, as you probably see in your practice, baby boomers don’t move on from dentists as quickly, with a much lower 20% reporting that they are likely to switch providers in the next three years. While that’s lower than the millennial switch rate, dentists should still pay attention to this generation because it adds up to one in five baby boomers you may lose as patients.

Interestingly, Gen Xers revealed that they tend to be more satisfied with their dentists than with other types of medical professionals studied in this review. Of those surveyed, only about 30% reported being “completely satisfied” with their primary care physician, ophthalmologist and dermatologist. But a greater number, 40%, said they were “completely satisfied” with their dentist. That’s good news for dentists!

Gen Xers tend to be more satisfied with their dentists than with other types of medical professionals studied in this review.

Likelihood of switching dentists in the next two years
How likely are your patients to switch to another dentist in the next two years? Here is how the survey respondents answered that question, by generation:

The undervalued imperative of patient retention
As you can see from these findings, the increasing likelihood of people across generations to change dentists means that patient retention is critical for successful dental practices. While many dental practices spend a large portion of their marketing budget on patient acquisition, too many focus far too little on patient retention.

Loyalty is paramount in any economy. When your practice loses patients, you must spend marketing dollars in hopes of attracting new ones. Practices that spend all their marketing dollars to acquire new patients—while neglecting efforts to retain their existing base—do so to their own detriment. Spending money to replace the patients they lose makes it difficult to sustain—much less grow—their practices.

Dental patient newsletters offer solutions to patient loss
By sending newsletters to your patients, you remind them of your expertise. With high-quality content, you’ll increase your patients’ trust and stand out from other dentists in your area. These powerful messages encourage patients to return to your office for treatment plans, as well as for regular cleanings and examinations, to ensure optimal dental health.

Education is crucial to guarantee that your patients know the importance of oral health care. Your newsletter can provide information on the value of a regular dental appointment schedule, along with news and updates on oral health topics that impact readers. Newsletters educate patients about conditions that will cost more in time, money and discomfort should they not address them right away.

Newsletters educate patients about conditions that will cost more in time, money and discomfort should they not address them right away.

If a patient has an issue now that will adversely impact his or her health and/or appearance in years to come if proper care is put off, it is important that the patient know. Dentists sometimes take it for granted that patients fully understand these factors, when in reality, they often do not. Dental newsletters are an exceptional resource for patient education. They reach patients’ inboxes monthly, and dentists can keep printed copies in their offices as reading material. Patient newsletters reinforce what you tell your patients about their conditions and treatment options during a visit. And they keep high-quality, engaging, easy-to-skim content in front of them.

Putting it all together
The Solutionreach survey contains extremely valuable information for dentists that we hope you will carefully consider. Here are some takeaways and recommendations from WPI Communications:

If patient retention and growth are priorities for your dental practice, what’s your plan to make it happen? To start benefitting from WPI Communicationsdental patient newsletters, contact us, and we will help you subtly, effectively and meaningfully stay top-of-mind with your patients across all generations.

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