‘What patients want from communication are options—email, text,
and phone. You will still have some patients who want to get
reminders via phone, but most want text and email.’
By Josh Weiner
A study conducted in 2017 found that providing great dental care is no longer enough to effectively retain patients. While only 11% of patients said they have switched dentists in the past year, 33% said they were thinking about leaving in the next couple of years. The study found that this increase in patient switching is largely due to frustration around practice logistics like scheduling, communication, and customer service.
The fact is that only 40% of patients are completely satisfied with their dental practice. They want better communication, more modern communication tools, and better service from staff. So, how can practices provide this improved experience without adding more work for staff? The answer is to automate many of these processes with tools that support patient preferences, personalization, customization, and improved workflow.
Offer communication options
One of the reasons patients are frustrated with communication is because many practices still communicate using the phone. Patients, on the other hand, are unlikely to answer the phone these days. Research shows that phone calls are seen as inconvenientrcdcruzwdewdayczfqcbwsbeedectwxrradq. Many people don’t even check voicemail. So this isn’t an effective way to connect with patients.[Native Advertisement]
What patients want from communication are options—email, text, and phone. You will still have some patients who want to get reminders via phone, but most want text and email. Nearly 60 percent of patients across all generations say that they want text and email reminders. Almost 50% say they want to be able to text back and forth with their dentist’s office. If a practice isn’t offering these options, then they are missing opportunities to connect with patients, and patients are more likely to look elsewhere for care.
Texting also saves time for staff. The average time it takes to make a reminder call is about two minutes. Reminder and recall text messages can be sent automatically with no additional work for staff. Need to send a quick real-time text to a patient for some other reason? That takes more like four to five seconds for the practice to send and another four seconds for the patient to respond. That’s 10 seconds versus two minutes.
Improve appointment scheduling
Another big issue for patients is appointment scheduling. On average, it takes eight minutes to schedule an appointment. That’s a lot of time for someone who may be calling on a break from work. This probably explains why more and more patients aren’t waiting on hold or calling back. One study found that patients don’t want to wait on hold for more than a minute. If they hang up, they aren’t likely to call again.
The other challenge with scheduling on the phone is the limited options. The office staff asks a couple of questions such as “What day is best for you?” to prompt the patient to provide an answer. Immediately, the field of options is limited by the staff to that day. This often pushes the appointment out by weeks.
With online scheduling, the wait times and limited options are removed, and the patient is provided with more flexibility. If scheduling at 10:00 p.m. is most convenient, then the patient can easily do that. And the patient can also see all available appointments, not just a few choices. So the patient may be able to get in sooner and book the appointment faster.
Personalize the experience
With the right tools, practices can personalize and customize interactions with patients. In addition to communicating with patients via their preferred method, practices can address patients by name and target communications to specific groups of patients. For example, practices can send targeted educational newsletters to parents about how to take care of their kids’ teeth.
Using newsletters and social media are great ways to connect with patients between visits to keep the practice relevant. These can be used to introduce patients to new staff or new services. Educate patients about oral health. Promote events or ways the practice gives back to the community. Patients are more loyal to a business they notice giving back.
Finally, give patients a way to connect when and how they want by providing real-time, two-way texting. Practices can text-enable their landline and text message with patients in a way that looks like real text messaging to the patient. Let patients reach out any time to ask questions or double check an appointment time or instructions.
It may seem counterintuitive but technology provides a way to improve patient relationships and make them more personal and engaging. Practices can offer patients convenience and flexibility with tools that save time for staff. Best of all these solutions are generally affordable and easy to use. They will quickly pay for themselves in patient retention and increased appointments.
Josh Weiner is the chief operating officer at Solutionreach. He joined Solutionreach from Summit Partners, a leading global growth equity firm, where he served as vice president. Through his work with Summit Partners, Weiner served on the Solutionreach Board of Directors for three years. Prior to Summit Partners, he was a consultant with McKinsey & Company. Weiner is a graduate of Stanford University.