Part 1 – A Two Part Series
Integrated Solutions that Improve the Patient Experience and Practice Productivity
In recent years, heightened competition among dental practices across North America has caused a shift toward a more value-based and patient-centered care model.1 Out of necessity, it has made improving the patient experience a major objective for many dental teams. Implementing third-party patient engagement and related applications that work in tandem with your practice management software (PMS) are a great way to achieve this objective. They provide convenience and time savings for patients and result in increased productivity for the dental practice.2 This article describes how a group of these applications work and the resulting benefits for patients and the dental practice.
What is integration and what are the main benefits?
The applications referred to in this article do not operate in isolation. Rather, they read relevant patient data from your dental office’s PMS database and use it to automate administrative functions and report on practice results. The net benefits are improved operational efficiency, increased patient satisfaction and higher patient response rates that lead to better practice performance. The most advanced applications systematically combine the contact data they accumulate over time with PMS data to produce insightful practice metrics for more informed decision making. These applications do not replace your PMS, but rather “turbo boost” it due to the synergies achieved. Let’s take a closer look at what is possible.
Automated patient communication/appointment reminders
By far the most popular patient engagement application is automated communication via text or email messaging.3 It is no wonder since these applications save the dental practice time and the tedium of chasing down patients to book or confirm appointments by phone. Patients also prefer the convenience of being able to communicate and respond to the dental practice, anywhere and anytime, from their mobile devices.4
Based on an automated, pre-set schedule or a prompt, the software application sends messages to segmented patient groups such as appointment reminders, appointment confirmations requests, and outstanding recall/treatment notices. Each message is customized based on the individual’s patient profile extracted from the PMS (their scheduled appointments, recall due dates, overdue/incomplete treatment etc.). Patients can respond using their smart phone, notebook or computer and automatically update their e-calendars where applicable. With fully integrated systems, data fields within the PMS such as appointment status are automatically updated based on the patient’s response. Tremendous administrative time and cost savings are achieved since the automated messages replace the need for most phone calls. The reminders also make it less likely for patients to break or miss their appointments so practice productivity increases.5
At first glance, all patient messaging systems may appear the same. However, the main differentiator between systems is the messaging workflow (message number and sequence, and message customization). Also important is the degree of built-in intelligence to change/cease messaging based on the patient’s response so messages appear more personal. More sophisticated systems also provide performance metrics such as appointment and confirmation conversion rates to help determine which messaging workflows are most effective.
A Two-texting feature allows an ad-hoc exchange of information between the office and patient much more efficiently than phone calls.6 Most systems provide a notification any time a new incoming message is received so it can be responded to immediately if desired. Alternatively, any outstanding messages can be retrieved and viewed later so a response can be made when staff time is available.
On-line scheduling/new patient boarding
Even though most patients prefer receiving their appointment messages electronically, without the ability to schedule an appointment online, they are still faced with the inconvenience of having to call the office to schedule an appointment. Inevitably, at some point they are likely to find the office is closed or their call unanswered. Prospective patients looking for a new dentist may have a similar experience and simply move on – a lost opportunity for the dental office.
Online patient scheduling solves this dilemma where directly from the practice website, active or new patients can schedule an appointment while they are still engaged.7 Without this capability, the probability of the prospective patient scheduling an appointment after they leave the website drops significantly.8
Instead, many dental websites simply provide an appointment request form for prospective patients to fill out and submit. Online scheduling applications go much further by displaying the appointment types offered (Eg. exam, cleaning, emergency, tooth whitening etc.) Based on the appointment type selected, the application will then intelligently scan through the practice schedule to find openings while considering PMS settings, including column/chair and practitioner availability. When the patient selects his/her desired time slot, the dental practice sends back a message confirming the appointment request and the scheduling loop is completed. To save time and transcription errors, some systems automatically post the appointment into the PMS and create a new patient file.
Active patients looking to book an appointment for emergencies or cosmetic services can also book an online appointment from the dental office website at anytime rather than calling the office. In addition, whenever patients receive overdue recall/treatment messages, a direct link to online scheduling enables them to book their appointment immediately and conveniently. The most robust online scheduling applications will even prevent patients from booking their Recare appointment earlier than their recall interval specifies.
In summary, online scheduling combined with automated appointment messaging follows best practices since it completes the sequence of steps for scheduling appointments as soon as possible. As a result, offices that implement these applications report increased new patient acquisition, better patient retention, improved booking rates and higher patient satisfaction.9
Filling cancellations with short notice waitlists
Some patient messaging and/or online booking applications also enable patients to join an appointment waitlist so they can be contacted when new openings in the schedule match their indicated availability arise. For example, when the office incurs a cancellation, the application automatically scans the wait list and sends out appointment request notices to patients that are most likely able to fill the opening. The net result is less schedule down time and a corresponding increase in productivity.
- Patient-Centred Approach to Dentistry: Essential, Inevitable. Achievable. John Zarb et al, Oral Health, November 12, 2019
- Patient Engagement by the Numbers. Diana P. Friedman, dentaltown, September 2014
- Using Automated Ptient Outreach to Improve Patient Communications. Sara Heath, Patient EngagementHit, August 6, 2018
- How to Improve Dental Patient Experience with Text Message Marketing, Alexa Lemzy, oralhealth GROUP WEEKLY, July 1, 2020
- No More No-Shows. Jen McGuire, Dental Economics, January 17, 2014
- Text Messaging is Absolutely Eating Phone Call’s Lunch, Franchise Help, 2016
- Patient Engagement: Digital self-scheduling set to explode in healthcare over the next five years. Accenture, 2016
- 4 benefits of online scheduling. Editor, TechAdvisory.org, November 12, 2015
- The benefits of Online Scheduling for Healthcare Practices, Hospital & Healthcare Management. Ashley Halsey, 2019
About the Author
David Rajczak, founder of DJR Consulting, is a dental practice management and technology focused expert as a result of over two decades of experience working with industry leaders such as ABELDent, Henry Schein and CareCru. He holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree and an MBA from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 905-977-5252.
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