It used to be that the art of conversation meant a verbal exchange between one or more people. Now it is the art of texting! Nonverbal communication seems to be the way of the world, wherever you are in the world. Some might even call it “conversation online”! The whole genre of social media goes beyond texting or e-mail. It goes to the use of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, to name just 3 of the more popular social media venues. What is most interesting is that there seems to be no age limitations or barriers to actively participating in one or more of these outlets.
Some Interesting Stats
In preparing for this Viewpoint, I went online to garner some insights and statistics. I was both shocked and amazed. Bloomberg.com reported on November 29, 2010, that just on the AT&T network alone, “Forty-two percent of Americans over the age of 50 years sent at least one text in a given quarter…compared with 85% of 13- to 34-year-olds.” There is no doubt that the texting boom is on the rise. That same article mentioned that in June 2010, there were 173.2 billion text messages sent as compared to a mere 7.2 billion only 5 years earlier! Cell phone companies are wise to this, and many are enticing their older users to sign up for text services by offering tutoring on how to use the system.
Facebook is perhaps the fastest-growing social media phenomenon. I found an online article dating back to August 2009 with some incredible revelations. For example, “in the 6- month period ending July 4, 2009, Facebook saw a 513% growth in the 55-plus-year-old users.” And it is still growing at an incredible rate of about 8% per month. Needless to say, the largest group of users is the 35-plus-year-old set, who, back in 2009, accounted for 40.2% of all users. One last interesting fact was that 54.6% of users were female.
The Pitfalls: Should You Decide to Participate
Of course, we must be cognizant of the pitfalls of the scope of social media. In a lecture entitled “Is Social Media a Fad?” I recently heard, “...What happens in Las Vegas no longer just stays in Las Vegas—it now goes on Facebook!”
We have all received spam messages or solicitations for money from some third-world country promising you a small fortune for simply wiring them some advance money and/or providing your bank information. As adults, we are hopefully savvy to this unrealistic expectation and intrusion on our time. But what about our children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews who are subject to electronic bullying? They may not be understanding of the complexities of posting a derogatory remark or photograph electronically. We must continue to educate and monitor the use by these young individuals while walking the fine line of freedom of speech versus censorship.
On Becoming a High-Tech, High-Touch Office
Clearly, we should be aware that social media and electronic communication is here to stay, and we must be able to understand and utilize it in a comfortable and productive manner that will enhance and benefit our practices. There’s a slogan for the lottery that states, “You’ve gotta be in it to win it!” I agree. There is no escaping the fact that we need to be in touch with our patients in more ways than through just a phone call. However, I must also confess that I am not a subscriber to social media; I do not have a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and I never posted any content to YouTube. In fact, I do not even have an office Web site, and yet I get new patients who find me via the Internet every month.
So what have I done to become “High-Tech and High-Touch” in my office? I am wise enough to let others do what I cannot do well. In my case, I chose a company that specializes in enhancing our patient communication via e-mail and texting services. Wow, has this been successful—more on that a little later in the article.
I have always believed in patient communication and still feel that one-to-one contact is the best way to communicate with a patient. However, I also realize that we are a very busy society and that the phone may not be the most effective way to be in touch with our patients. We often get answering machines when calling their homes, and many do not want to be (or can’t be) disturbed at work, while others don’t want you to call them on their cell phones. When I first used a company to contact my patients by text and/or e-mail, I was met with great resistance from both my staff and patients.
Many of patients did not want to be contacted in a way contrary to the “warm, fuzzy feeling” they got by talking with a member of my staff. And my staff did not want to take the time to garner e-mail addresses and/or cell phone numbers. They said that too many of my patients did not pay for texting services or had paid for limited airtime and did not want us “using it up.”
Well, as you already know (and what was confirmed by the statistics noted earlier in this article), the times have surely changed. Now, my patients still like the “warm, fuzzy feeling” of coming to my office but are “really busy” and prefer to be contacted via e-mail and/or text messages. My office team has no problem asking for their contact information, since most patients very willingly offer it up. Patients often ask us if we can e-mail or text them with appointment reminders. It is amazing how times have changed!
There are many, many things that you can do for your patients electronically. I wanted to have a system that would handle confirmation of appointments, thus freeing up my front desk team. I also wanted a system that would remind patients to take their premedication if indicated; seek out those patients who have not been into the office for quite some time; send birthday greetings; and provide some patient education in a newsletter format that was educational and not commercial. Of course, I wanted all this to happen easily and seamlessly with minimal time spent by my office team, other than the necessary collection of patient information.
After investigating the marketplace, I chose Smile Reminder (located at smilereminder.com). (This is not intended to be an advertisement for this company, but I know many of you will ask what service we use in our office.) Almost all services out there have the same features, but this company assigns one trainer to learn about and work with our office in a dedicated fashion. In my opinion, this company’s protocol made all the difference in tailoring a system that would meet my specific office needs and demands.
Nothing will ever replace the one-to-one contact between the doctor and patient and between the office team and patient. We must continue to make our office environmentally friendly and appealing while treating our patients as we would like to be treated. One can easily abuse the interactive media experience by bombarding patients with unnecessary or unwanted messages and reminders. Systems should have the ability for patients to choose to “opt out” of text or e-mail (or both), in favor of the personal touch of a phone call. Social media should be used to educate, communicate, and inform patients about the services you provide. Show them the results of your treatment. This is not selling; it is a form of education to a large number of people who are seeking a home for their dental care.
In my opinion, if you take a high-tech approach, delivered with a great deal of thoughtful and team-based high-touch care, just about any form of electronic communication will succeed.
Gotta run now! Someone just sent me a text.