Active Patients: Do you know the importance of this number?

If not, you’re not alone. All too often I meet with Doctors who have no idea how many true active patients they have, or what this number means when it comes to their business systems working effectively, or the amount of lost production that is taking place by not knowing.

It’s vital that you know how many true ‘active’ patients you have, and what that number means to you and your team when it comes to providing quality dental care to all your patients, both new and existing.
Which raises an important, related point. In my experience, established practices often ‘ignore’ their active patients in pursuit of the all-important new patient. And they are important, but did you know it’s more profitable to keep an active patient than recruit a new one?  Active patients accept more dentistry than a new patient as they have history and trust with you and the team, yet despite this, many dentists focus on getting the new, and unwittingly toss the active aside.

Depending on the type of practice you are, i.e. number of Doctor’s, Hygienist’s hours, chairs and type of procedures you provide determines the amount of patients you can handle, which in turn will tell you how many new patients your practice actually needs.  The fact that so many offices don’t know what the right number is for them is what gets them in trouble.  I have yet to visit an established practice where this is not a problem.  

So, what are the general guidelines for determining how many actual active patients you have, and how much room you should allow for new patients?

A general family solo comprehensive care Dentist seeing patients 32 hours per week can manage around 1600 active patients annually.  If this same practice has a strong periodontal program, as it should, this same Doctor will require 2.75 full time hygienists, (i.e. D4910 or perio maintenance equals twice as many appointments per patient).  If there is NO periodontal program – we need to talk! – then this practice will require 2 full-time hygienists (ie, four 8-hour days).

Don’t forget – this example has NO room for new patient growth – it is only serving the existing patient base.  So when a practice like this talks to me about high cancellations and no shows I question how this entire team – not just the front desk -- is communicating to their existing patients about dental health and what it really involves. 

If your computer report indicates you have far too many patients listed as active, then it is time to review your patient list and determine who is active, who should be deactivated and who you should consider dismissing.  

You must work your patient base, which means you must have a strong recare /perio program that is routinely reviewed to make sure your patients are not falling through the cracks.  

An active patient is one who has been into your office in the past 24 months to see your hygiene team.  Remember, you could crown every tooth in my mouth but by the time you cement number 32 if I am not current in your hygiene program, then I am gone until I have a problem. And don’t forget… your hygiene department promotes 90% of its daily schedule into the dentist’s chair for additional care.  

Don’t get me wrong, new patients are important, but recruiting the right type of patient - one who seeks the services you provide - is the goal, not the exception.  Many practices have huge numbers of new patients yet they are ‘one hit wonders’ seeking only emergency care, or are rushed through their first -- and ultimately only – appointment with no effort made to educate them on the value and benefits of the care you offer.

If you are unsure of how many true active patients you have, if you recognize that you are not doing enough to communicate the true value of dental health to your patients, or if you find yourself guilty of the ‘new patients are everything’ mind set, please contact my office to schedule a phone consultation. The difference between knowing your true active patient number and not knowing can be the difference between a schedule that is full and productive, versus one that is frustrating and full of expensive no-shows and cancellations.