As practices reopen, Shaz Memon considers how some practices are making a success of the return to work from a dental marketing perspective.
Dentistry is all about transparency – in what dental treatments can achieve (as well as not achieve), in the practice’s pricing, in its culture of openness and in the quality of care.
Ideally, everyone in the dental team will by now understand and be implementing your practice’s COVID-19 strategy. But have the intricacies of this new patient pathway been relayed to those at the heart of what you do – your patients?
How are you are sharing details of what steps you are taking to ensure patient safety with those rebooking appointments? Indeed, do they have any insight before they talking through their expectations and needs?
Keeping an open dialogue with your patients when they feel at their most uncomfortable is essential. COVID-19 is not a topic to be shut away and ignored. Nowhere has the now much-hackneyed phrase, ‘keep calm and carry on’ been less welcome. Our lives have changed and the way dentistry is delivered with it. And patients understand this fact. They need to have the confidence to ask questions. They need to know they will be listened to and reassured they will have their concerns taken seriously.
Interestingly, there seems to be much variation in how practices are welcoming back patients to the new normal. Some have set up a virtual pathway before booking in face-to-face for new consults. Others are ringing around their emergencies and prioritising appointments based on need.
When it comes to pricing (thanks to the heavy burden of all that extra PPE), practices have also taken varying routes.
However, whether you call a hike in cost a ‘PPE contribution’, a ‘COVID-compliance charge’ or don’t charge for PPE at all, patients need to feel reassured that you have their best interests at heart.
Open dialogue should ward against any awkward moments when it comes to requesting fees. You may therefore wish to inform them of any increase in costs at the triage stage.
Communication is key
Ramin Semsar from Customer Service Clinic advises that communication really is key.
He says: ‘Of course, many practices and businesses have become accustomed to sending patients or clients updates via email. While this is fine, let’s not forget the effective personal touch that a phone call can have. Patients will tell their friends and families about their experiences with your practice. Especially if we do things that are unexpected. Have a look at the four ideas below. Remember that not all patients/customers are that tech savvy.
- Instead of sending an email, call patients prior to appoint, informing them of the changes and outlining what to expect. Give them as much or as little time as they need to ask questions so you can manage expectations
- Send out a welcome package with information and include a small gift, such as promotional products. For example, dental floss or toothpaste. This is totally unexpected and adds a token of gratitude
- Ensure a courtesy follow-up call to see how the patient is doing after treatment and how they felt you communicated the new process
- Send an aftercare package with promotional products and advice. Include information about other treatments.’
Brunswick Dental Practice in Bangor, County Down, took a humorous approach. They updated patients about what to expect by dressing up the process with a hint of celebrity, using one of the team to pose as ‘Beyoncé’. She walks viewers through the patient journey in their Facebook video – https://www.facebook.com/BrunswickDentalPractice/videos/399578074349726/ – to show patients what dentistry with them looks like in a COVID-19 world.
Message on point
The post reads: ‘Celebrity Social Distancing at Brunswick Dental, Bangor. Here’s how we do social distancing at Brunswick Dental, in Bangor’s West End. Although restrictions are lifting, you might find your dental appointment is a little bit different…’
Guests are told to ‘remain in your limo until you receive a mobile call’. They are reminded that ‘your valet, agent, hairdresser, stylist – and kids will not be admitted for the safety of other celebrities. The VIP pass is for you alone.’
Some 16,115 views, 114 comments 71 shares and 252 likes/loves and ‘hahas’ later, the team got their message on point. And nailed it with a high volume in the post’s statistics, to boot!
Meanwhile, over on Instagram, Cotswold Dental Wellness shared their ‘PPE evolution’ in a post. It was captioned: ‘As we draw to the end of our first week, we are giving ourselves and the patients a huge pat on the back! Our planning and execution of procedures has been very successful and the patients that we have seen have been extremely compliant and accepting.
‘Well done all! In the picture you can see the evolution of PPE in dentistry today. Claire and Zoe pictured, wearing standard PPE through to enhanced PPE ready for Aerosol Generating Procedures. It might seem quite scary as you enter the surgery now but don’t forget there are smiling faces behind the masks!’
Patients may not wish to be overburdened with detail, but they certainly appreciate a clear voice and helpful imagery. Relaying key messages needn’t be done in a heavy-handed way or necessarily delivered in a serious tone. So long as it has clarity.
Ultimately, they just don’t want any surprises. So do be upfront about costs, appearances and protocols.
Social media is your secret weapon when it comes to pre-appointment patient engagement.
So, consider updating patient testimonials with some COVID-19 feedback. Ask how they felt about their trip – the patient care experience as well as the results. Keep any videos short enough (just under 60 seconds) to use on Instagram.
Harness your most social media-active team members to share practice news, too. Dental nurses, for example, can be great ambassadors. There are countless selfies on Instagram of teams dressed in PPE. This normalises the appearance, allowing patients to meet the ‘face behind the mask’ before they step inside the practice.
In a COVID-19 world, positivity is essential. Harness this enthusiasm and encourage team members to engage with honest and simple messaging. They are perfectly placed to be the voice of your practice. And, as supreme communicators, they can break down barriers of clinical jargon to reach out to patients using terms and language they understand.
Ramin Semsar, from Customer Service Clinic, advises celebrating team members is also key as they are your ambassadors. The more we celebrate them the more motivated the team will be to look after your patients through challenging times. Also, potential new patients and returning patients will see the efforts the team is making. As a result, they will become more understanding to the changes in procedures and their appointments.
Zoe Wingrove is one of the dental nurses at the aforementioned Cotswold Dental Wellness.
In her Instagram post, she writes: ‘After all of the preparation and hard work from my colleagues at @cotswolddentalwellness, we have completed our first week back to dentistry post-COVID 19-lockdown. We now have two levels of PPE – ‘casual’ for any non-AGPs and our ‘dressy’ PPE for AGPs as modelled by myself and Claire.
‘Kim, my practice manager has recently done a fit testing course to enable her to fit test us all! Unfortunately, I have failed two fit tests on two different masks so we are awaiting our reusable “stealth” masks to arrive, so we can get into full swing with our AGPs.
‘After 10 weeks of lockdown, it was strange. I was anxious to start nursing again, like do you really forget how to nurse?! Nooooo, it’s like riding a bike. Once you know, you know. I’m so glad to be back at work seeing patients and my lovely colleagues (even if the new norm is a bit different).’
Zoe explains: ‘Since COVID-19, people are generally looking for more reassurance and guidance on what is right and wrong. We therefore need to confidently communicate the changes in procedures to our patients. I have even been explaining to patients how to wear their masks properly – it’s the little things that go a long way.’
Other ways to continue positive on-going engagement via social media include:
- Celebrating a member of staff’s long service by marking a workplace anniversary or milestone. Longevity suggests loyalty and a happy practice team – this is important when it comes to attracting new patients and retaining old
- If any of your team volunteered or were deployed to work on the frontline, share their stories and perhaps make contact with your local news website as well as post on your practice’s social media platforms.
Your social media activity should not have been neglected during these past few months. Now more than ever patients are seeking your input, experience and professional integrity so they have an understanding of their dental experience to come.
Find your COVID-19 ambassadors and put them on your dental marketing frontline.