It has become apparent today that a lot of research must be done to help you find “the one”—that company/service ideally suited to help you grow your practice.
Today, we are interacting with our patients very differently than in years past. I can safely say that flipping through the Yellow Pages and finding a new dentist is not happening. Although the Yellow Pages is now online, it has been replaced by Google, Yelp, Facebook, Angie’s List, Healthgrades, and other search methods. Personal recommendations and referrals still represent a large percentage of new patient generation, but online reviews have now added a new dimension to things. Websites are being built for dental practices with software featuring search engine optimization (SEO) designed to prioritize a company’s search results, and the buzzwords “social media” represent yet other sources of patient referral, using Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram, and others. Many dentistry-specific Web designers promise that your practice will be at the top of a search list; they all say they can do this, but there is only one top spot. Office reviews and videos can help boost your position, and although reviews are helpful, reputation management is also an important consideration. Even if you are in that top search spot, if there are a lot of negative reviews, it negates the efforts you’ve made to be there.
As you walk the aisles of dental shows meeting exhibitors while also perusing Dentistry Today and other dental magazines, it becomes apparent that a lot of research must be done to help you find “the one”—that company/service ideally suited to help you grow your practice. Dentistry Today has been totally focused on the clinical aspects of a practice, but we on its staff realize that you cannot perform procedures without patients. I hope to expand our prowess in this area in future columns and articles, and since this is about Internet communication, the initial focus will be online.
Now, once you have obtained new patients, how do you retain them? Many companies now offer services to keep in touch with existing patients with things as simple as sending birthday greetings, alerting them about new procedures, and even “specials.” An office that really takes charge can use these services to send congratulaions to patients for various acheivments or family landmarks. These communications help to generate new patient referrals the old fashioned way—by word of mouth. These services also assume many of the manual tasks that your staff has been doing and links them in a logical and coordinated effort with methods to monitor your success (or failure). Basic communication utilizing the time-consuming and often ineffective appointment reminder/confirmation phone call has changed due to society’s changes. Text, email, and the use of mobile devices are now the front lines of communication, and using this method to let patients know there is an upcoming appointment and offer them a simple one-click method to respond is desirable. And contacting them about a schedule change or a “short notice” opening can keep the appointment book full. Also, consider this: research has shown that your practice will receive a response within 5 to 8 minutes. And what about missed appointments? Here is where this slightly impersonal system might save a practice from an embarrassing phone call—we have all had that experience of calling a patient who missed an appointment only to hear about a critical personal emergency.
Similarly, we all have had patients who quietly “disappeared.” They didn’t complain, they just never came back. Something unpleasant may have happened that no one was aware of, and a practice might get an email or text from the patient reluctant to discuss this occurrence if he or she had gotten a phone call. A simple questionnaire could provide answers, usually right away. Of course, many of these lost patients have no idea that it perhaps has been such a long time since they were last in the office. (“Two years ago? Really?”)
One communication method that some companies provide with their systems is to email a short “survey” asking how the appointment was handled. Some send these follow-ups later in the day, while others generate the request before the patient gets from the dental chair to the front desk. These surveys can turn into reviews. And usually if patients are willing to spend the time answering the survey, they might be willing to write a review. Some systems allow the practice to publish the surveys either on the doctor’s website or in public forums. In this situation, the practice has a chance to filter what goes out there and where it goes. Keep in mind that if a patient does post a negative review on a commercial forum such as Yelp, there is little the practice can do.
Responding to a negative review can often lead to disaster, although there are times when an explanation is due. Of course, if the patient was hostile enough to spend the time for the initial review, it can get a bit ugly. The best response, of course, is overwhelming the review with many positive comments. We all have “premium” patients who just love us—have them show us the love (online). Once again, there are many services that will help you monitor the online reviews for you, saving a lot of staff time surfing the various sites. The point here is that we are all doing what we can within the resources of our individual staffs, but with technology we can leave several tasks to outside companies who are more efficient than we are, and free up the staff for the internal workings of the practice.
The patient finder/retainer concept is not new. Several companies have long occupied this business niche, and I will discuss a few of them here. (I hope to mention other companies in a later column.) One of the oldest companies is Smile Reminders, now Solutionreach (solutionreach.com), and Mike Buckner has been a great resource. Fred Joyal of 1-800-DENTIST and its many subsidiaries (including Futuredontics) has been a notable resource, and Dr. Lenny Tau (birdeye.com) has given me insight into reputation management. WEO Media (weodental.com) has also helped me considerably, but I save the best for last: Rita Zamora (ritazamora.com), whose lectures, website, blogs, Facebook posts, and more have been an invaluable resource to me in this realm. All these companies are accessible and actually impartial and honest despite direct affiliations with their products. In the meantime, examine your practice’s marketing methods, ask questions, and get started in this quest to “let it grow.”
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