Dan Durie explains how PPE is impacting communication and explores other methods practices can use to speak to patients.
The pandemic has clearly changed the way the dental industry is having to operate. Whether that is for better or worse is a different conversation. There is no debate though, the changes have been seismic.
With the requirements of enhanced PPE, social distancing and heightened sanitation, practices have the onerous challenge of making fundamental changes to how the business is run.
Whilst this has been a saving grace in enabling practices to continue to operate, there are long term challenges that the practices have to consider and adjust for.
PPE is quite literally creating a barrier between patient and practitioner.
In addition to personal recognition/blocking of body language, it is creating the challenge where patients cannot hear what is being said to them.
To exasperate this issue, the available time to spend with patients is far more limited. A serious problem that needs addressing, as patient communication is not only key for commercial purposes but is an essential requirement of both the CQC and GDC (as detailed in their second principles 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, 2.4).
Unfortunately, practice support staff cannot address these issues because they have an increased workload with the need to perform enhanced cleaning and to support in the efficient turnaround of patients.
This all culminates in less attention on patient communication. In a time when more focus and effort is more important than ever.
So, what are practices doing to tackle this?
Follow up calls
Following up every procedure and any conversations in practice about a treatment with a phone call. It’s much safer and easier to talk to patients over the phone than through a face mask.
A phone call will help build patient relationships, ensure they understand any aftercare advice and demonstrates you care about them.
What are the negatives?
Phone calls are very time consuming and staff resource heavy. It often results in needing additional practice staff.
If practice support staff are performing this, there is a risk that inconsistent and/or inaccurate information is communicated (particularly regarding post treatment care).
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This has similar benefits to phone calls. It shows patients you care and it is easier to communicate through a message than a facemask.
Unlike a phone call, you can send a message at a time that is not reliant on the recipient being available. Also, younger generations are often more likely to answer a message on social media than talk to someone on the phone.
What are the negatives?
Similar to the phone calls it is very time consuming. Social media often requires a dedicated member of staff to deal with various interactions.
There is a significant challenge in identifying which social media channel is effective for each particular patient.
Although it is unlikely, not everybody will want to let their dental practice enter their social space. So this route may take even longer to build up the relationship between patient and practice before this is even an option.
Some practices in the initial lockdown embraced video call technology in order to maintain relationships with their patients and to provide them with help and advice.
Subsequently, some have gone on to offer them as part of new business processes, but with the revised objective of promoting specialist and cosmetic treatments.
There appears to be two approaches taken for these video consultations. The first is to offer a free video consultation and treat it as a marketing expense (the investment is time). The second is to charge a fee and then deduct this from any resulting treatment that is booked.
What are the negatives?
Firstly, how do you let your patients or prospective patients know you are offering video consults?
The free offering could result in large time commitments with no return. But it is likely to be much more effective from a take up/marketing perspective.
The paid/refunded offering is less risky commercially, but uptake is likely lower. Any cost will need to be very modest to encourage uptake.
It is also best to offer as optional. Patients may prefer a face-to-face appointments because they feel uncomfortable with video calls.
You will also have to ensure that you are available at the scheduled times. Missing or being late is likely to cause a negative perception to the prospective patient and erode any of the marketing efforts.
Smilevision’s patient communication tools
To overcome many of these new challenges, Smilevision has developed a range of digital tools to help.
In addition to the market-leading personalised TV channel, Smilevision also provides an extensive library of personalised videos and leaflets that practices can email direct to patients, post on social media or upload to websites.
The key areas that practices use these tools for are:
- Generating new patient and treatment enquiries by posting videos on social media and uploading onto websites
- Increasing treatment enquiries from existing patients by promoting all the services available using email videos and the TV channel
- Converting treatment enquiries into bookings by emailing further information in the form of personalised promotional videos and leaflets
- Ensuring patients are provided with pre and post treatment information by emailing from a range of educational videos and leaflets.
These tools are helping practices to save their money, reduce their risks and increase their opportunities.
What’s more you can have a seven-day free trial of Smilevision’s patient communication tools.
To register or to find out more, please call 0207 99 33 888 or email email@example.com or visit www.smilevision.co.uk.
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