As competition among dental groups grows more intense, practices often struggle to keep up with their busy, mobile, and technologically attuned patients who like to make and break appointments with the push of a button. But unfortunately, even the best scheduling software doesn’t always cut it.
That’s what we learned a few years ago when we saw more of our patients using smartphones in the waiting room of our dental practice in Dyer, Ind. Patients were becoming more tech savvy right under our nose, and if we missed a chance to reach out to them in an impactful way, we worried they would change providers.
Unfortunately, when we tried to leverage our previous scheduling software to help us engage, we quickly learned that the software wasn’t as smart as the technology our patients were using. Frequently we tried setting up digital appointment reminders, but things continuously went awry. In one particular incident, a patient received a text reminder for her appointment while she was already sitting in the chair with her hygienist. How embarrassing!
In October 2016, we decided it was time for a change—and for better technology—that would make a more meaningful impact on our patient relationships. The only issue was how to do this affordably, given that we aren’t a large corporate dental practice brimming with resources.
Improving Relationships With Our Patients
We opted to implement a cloud-based, patient relationship management (PRM) tool instead of a simple scheduling app because we wanted an all-encompassing solution that understood the needs and limitations of a smaller, independent practice. The PRM tool is designed to enhance patient relationships in multiple ways, from scheduling and sending targeted texts and email blasts to offering personalized communications, including birthday messages, so our patients know we are always thinking of them.
We also wanted to ease our staff’s workload. We see more than 2,000 patients per year, and up until we implemented our PRM tool, it wasn’t uncommon for our hygienists to have to answer the phone or make calls between appointments because the administrative staff was tied up with other tasks or responsibilities.
Because we had an extensive “reschedule” list, back then we had a culture of, “anytime you’ve got downtime, you’ve got to be on the phone.” Today, our PRM tool takes care of sending out reminders, about 200 per day, for those who need to schedule follow-up appointments, saving our staff hundreds of hours on the phone and freeing them up to engage with our patients in the office or waiting room.
Once we got our PRM tool up and running, our first order of business was to set up an appointment reminder system that would dispatch 2 or more notifications prior to a patient’s appointment. Patients have the option to create their own account and determine how and how often they want to be contacted by answering questions such as “do you want a reminder an hour before your appointment?” Our patients have been much more responsive to this communications system, whereas before, they just ignored seemingly random, and far too frequent, text and email alerts. Because our PRM tool allows patients to choose their preferred digital medium (eg, text or email) and at their preferred frequency (eg, one week in advance of an appointment, or 2 alerts at weekly intervals), they’re more likely to confirm or reschedule their appointment and less likely to skip out on visits.
Within the first 2 weeks of implementation, we also started using the PRM’s digital marketing tool to offset some of the marketing work that often falls on the staff. Our PRM solution offers a robust reputation-management application, which moderates online patient feedback and helps us ensure our patient satisfaction surveys are delivered in a timely manner. It also nudges us to acknowledge issues that arise, such as when a patient has a less than stellar experience at our practice, requiring us to reach out and address the situation. The PRM tool is also equipped with templates for newsletters and targeted email blasts, which we can send to specific demographics, such as those adult patients who would benefit from Invisalign, fillings, or a general checkup.
As a result of our success in just 3 short months, we’ve been able to condense the number of outside vendors we use down to one, which has saved us quite a bit of money in the process.
Already, we’ve seen a number of benefits since implementing our PRM solution.
So far, we’ve had 279 appointment confirmations, further explaining why we also have fewer missed visits. We’ve also benefitted from sending out 6 group messages—for example, “we have an open appointment at 4:30 pm for oral hygiene; we will schedule the first person who responds”—which encourages patients to take advantage of last-minute appointment opportunities. In December 2016, we made a little more than $8,000 in revenue based on this feature.
Thanks to our online reputation tool, our Healthgrades rating is now at 5 stars, so anyone searching for a dental practice in our part of the country is likely to see we have many satisfied patients. In addition, our Net Promoter Score (+100 to –100 score) is +90.
Though it’s still early, we’re excited about seeing a rise all of these metrics.
Some dental offices worry that the staff will become nonessential if technology is adopted to lighten administrative burdens, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Our front office staff stays busy, especially since the addition of our PRM solution. We’re just happy that instead of spending hours on the phone trying to reach patients, we’re now actually able to spend time with them, in person, while they visit. Getting to know patients on a more personal level helps us forge real relationships that they’ll take with them even after they leave the office.
Ms. Gambetta, CEO of Advanced Dental in Dyer, Ind, has worn many hats since graduating from DePauw University including classroom teacher, independent consultant, National Geographic educator, Lincoln Park Zoo educator, full-time parent, bookkeeper, volunteer, and small business entrepreneur. Each of these positions has shaped her and she counts herself blessed to have earned so many friends along the way. She feels fortunate to be making a difference in patients’ lives every day. She can be reached at (219) 365-5420.