As vaccine access rolls out around the world, there’s hope that the novel coronavirus won’t disrupt our lives forever. But the changes brought by this global pandemic, and especially the changes to healthcare practice in every specialty, are here to stay. For dental practitioners, the pandemic has brought the importance of digital health and related innovations to the forefront.
Digital solutions in dentistry offer patients greater access and convenience in ways that are quickly becoming standard. Still, these solutions work best when they’re integrated cohesively into a fully digital experience.
Central to this experience is automation, which improves convenience for both patients and staff. Effectively automating your practice means reducing the risk of infection transmission, which patients expect. In fact, 57% of patients look for automated text, voice, or email reminders from their providers.
The potential for integrating automation into your practice is limitless, and the easiest way to find opportunities is to identify places to streamline the patient experience. This approach has the added advantage of immediately improving patient experience in your practice. For most dental practices, there are several key areas where automation could be added to enhance patient experiences.
Appointment Booking and Cancellation
Appointment booking is one of the easiest things to automate, and it can have a significant impact on the patient experience. In a recent study by Accenture, 77% of patients surveyed felt the option to change, cancel, and schedule appointments online was an important feature.
The most significant impact is convenience. Online booking enables patients to self-schedule appointments anytime, day or night, instead of calling during office hours. Automated appointment reminders also make it easy for patients to remember their appointments and to reschedule if needed.
Because automated appointments improve people’s flow through your office, they also help you space patients out and reduce the number of people in your waiting room, reducing wait time and interactions between patients.
To implement automated appointment booking in your practice, start with your existing workflows. Rather than creating a new system, build automation into the system you already use. Good automation software will allow you to define your workflow using the standard process in your office.
For most dental practices, the biggest impact on time in the waiting room is patients’ time filling out forms. But for your patients in a post-pandemic world, that time is no longer just an inconvenience. Now, it’s also a risk. So the faster you can move patients out of the waiting room, into your chair, and out of the office after their appointment concludes, the better they’ll feel about coming back.
Reduce the number of people sitting in your waiting room by automatically sending every patient a link to fill out intake forms ahead of time. Once appointment scheduling is automated, then automatic intake forms are a simple next step. Sophisticated automation software will allow you to send the forms a second time to anyone who hasn’t filled them out 24 hours before the scheduled appointment, increasing the number of patients who complete them ahead of time.
In addition to reducing time in the waiting room and providing contactless intake, automated forms reduce mistakes. When patients enter data themselves, they’re less likely to enter incorrect information than a staff member trying to read a handwritten document. Digital forms can also automatically sync with your electronic health records (EHR), allowing for instant systemwide updates.
If you choose to automate this step of your practice workflow, you must select automation software that’s designed for healthcare and HIPAA-compliant. Your intake forms require patients to share their private health information, so don’t DIY this with a Google form or other software not designed for healthcare. It may not offer the necessary security level for HIPAA compliance
Treatment planning should be individual, but most treatments follow a predictable workflow, and parts can be automated and streamlined. Treatment planning software offers templates that can shorten your process of planning from hours to minutes. For an even more modern approach, artificial intelligence can improve your planning speed and the quality of your treatment.
But preparing a quality treatment plan is only the first step. The second and more important part of treatment planning is helping your patient understand the plan. Automation software is an even more powerful tool here, enabling you to present the plan in a way your patients can easily understand and reference.
From your patients’ perspective, presentation is key to understanding the plan and choosing the right treatment options. When you present their treatment plan in a way that’s clear, visual, and easy to understand, you’ll see improvement in both treatment acceptance and patient confidence.
Keep in mind that treatment planning can never be fully automated. Your expertise will always be necessary to individualize the plan. However, software can significantly streamline the process.
Use planning software that offers templates so you don’t have to start each plan from scratch and then individualize for the specific patient. And if you have to choose between automating the planning or the presentation, prioritize making the treatment plan presentation clear, visual, and digital. The treatment presentation has the most significant impact on your patients’ experience.
If you automate nothing else about your practice, automated billing should be your number one priority. Like appointment booking, automated online billing is easy to implement. Automated billing has multiple advantages:
- Convenience for patients
- Reduction in administrative time for staff
- Significant reduction in late payments
Automated billing can also let you offer various payment options, such as multiple payment methods and various options for payment plans. However, the most important thing automated online billing offers is transparency, as 83% of patients desire more cost transparency from their providers. An automated billing record that can be easily accessed is a more than opportune way to offer this.
You can further streamline your billing process by integrating automated insurance verification. This further reduces late payments since it enables patients to automatically know what their visit will cost before they come to your office. By integrating automatic insurance verification into your appointment booking process, you can make the billing process clear and transparent to patients before they even set foot in your office.
Integrate billing, insurance verification, payment, and EHR into a unified system using application programming interfaces (API). The best automation software will allow you to customize this workflow and send automatic messages at any point in the process, enabling you to communicate everything your patients need to know about billing before their appointment.
In a post-pandemic world where your prospective patients are less likely to gather in person, online marketing is essential. And since automating processes like appointment booking and intake forms will naturally move many of your key processes online, automating your digital marketing is a natural next step. When potential new patients can easily book their first appointment through your website, it makes sense to use digital marketing to help them find your website.
But just as with any other automation practice, you’ll need to balance automating your marketing with personalization. To stand out from your competitors, you need to make a personal connection with potential customers, not just show them automated digital ads. If you haven’t yet been marketing your practice online, don’t start by automating. Start by experimenting. Once you have a process that works, use automation to scale.
If you’re just getting started with digital marketing, pick just one tactic such as Facebook ads, content marketing, or search engine optimization and try it for several months. If you get new customers from your new marketing efforts, then identify what’s working best and repeat it. After you’ve built a process that is reliably sending you new customers, use automation to grow the working system.
Integrating automation into your practice can improve your patients’ experience in many ways. Streamlining administrative processes can enhance flow to every step of patient interaction with your practice, from discovery to booking to the waiting room to the chair. And as digital dentistry grows in importance, automation becomes a more natural and essential step.
However, it’s important to avoid the pitfall of automating too much too fast and losing personal connection with your patients. As you work toward modernizing your practice, start with small steps. Identify the places where you can streamline your current workflow and automate those first. Make sure each new automation system is functioning effectively before you introduce more. Over time, each small step toward greater automation, more telehealth, and AI integration will bring your practice into the dentistry of the future.
Ms. Robinson is the manager of growth and product marketing at NexHealth. With more than 10 years of experience working in technical marketing, she helps NexHealth close the gap between patients, providers, and healthcare developers.