4 tips for retaining patients after a practice sale

As leadership changes, patients will have to make a decision.

By Chad Fleming, O.D., AOAExcelTM Business and Career Coach 

When football season starts, the Philadelphia Eagles will have a new team under the leadership of coach Chip Kelly. Coach Kelly is known for running a high-scoring, highly successful offense in college. Will a similar model work in professional football?

There are many skeptics, but only time and the numbers in the win column will tell. One commentator discussed the camaraderie Coach Kelly was creating in his efforts to "sell" the organization and, most important, the players on his philosophy of coaching and play calling.

Buying a practice is much like taking a new coaching position. The previous coach built a team of patients based on some philosophy of patient care and business leadership. As leadership changes, patients will have to make a decision if they are going to buy into the new culture and philosophy or search elsewhere for eye care services. 

Fortunately, those who think ahead and plan for the transition can reach retention rates as high as 90 to 95. But for those without a plan, retention rates may be as low as 50 percent or worse.

Here are a few ideas for your retention plan:

1. Send a letter

Go old-school on your patients. Have the exiting doctor put together a letter outlining what is going to occur with the sale of the practice, why the practice is being sold, and why the seller recommends that patients stay with the practice. For best results, distribute this as both a hard copy and an email.

2. Make personal phone calls

One of the highest retention rates I can speak of came from a senior doctor who called every one of his patients personally. He thanked them for trusting him with their eye care over the years and then recommended they see a specific doctor in the multi-doctor practice. He saw the impact of transitioning the patients in this way, and he also left a legacy not only with the patients but also with the doctors.

3. Make a chair-side handoff

This works well if the buyer and seller practice with each other for at least a year, which is a smart transition plan. The seller introduces patients to the buyer, communicates trust and respect and states that patients will be in good hands under the new ownership. There have been cases where one doctor would do the refraction and another follow up with the slit lamp exam and conclusion of the exam. I do not personally recommend this method, but it has worked for some practices. 

4. Focus on acute care

If the seller and buyer do practice together, during that transition time all acute care should go to the buyer so he or she can establish relationships. It can lead to higher retention rates if the seller refers patients to the buyer for services such as dry eye management, diabetic care or glaucoma management. In this scenario, patients feel they are not being "handed off." Instead, mutual patient care makes for an easy transition.

This is not an all-inclusive list, but it offers a start. In addition, be sure to include expectations in the letter of intent and final agreement. A high retention rate depends on planning and setting clear expectations.

A good working relationship makes a difference, too. Coach Kelly will be measured on performance, as will a practice buyer. But unlike Coach Kelly, the buyer will be replacing a successful seller who can assist in the transition.

August 20, 2013

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