As the office manager of a paperless office that utilizes all the latest technology available to our industry, I was shocked when I heard nearly one-third of the dental offices in the United States do not use any appointment reminder service to help confirm patients. Our office has worked with an appointment reminder service longer than we have had CEREC and I would never consider managing a practice without this valuable resource.
When I started asking why dentists would resist having a tool like this in their office - that not only confirms their patients arrive to appointments, but saves the front office time by making fewer more phone calls - I was told the doctor wants communication to the patient to be “personalized.” Doctors want to make sure patients receive the personal touch by receiving a phone call to remind them of their appointment and they don’t want an automated system to replace the personalized touch of their office staff.
I understand the dentist’s desire to personalize patient communication and I think some patients appreciate it and have come to expect it from their dentists. For those patients, it becomes necessary that the front office staff call and confirm the patient’s appointment.
Think about the following questions while considering whether you should replace your current manual, in-person system with an automated patient contact system.
What does it mean to be “personalized?” When we want to personalize our communication to our patients, who determines what is personal? The definition of the word is: design or produce (something) to meet someone's individual requirements. Who is that someone? That someone is the patient. Therefore, the concept of personalized communication really needs to be directed at the person receiving the communication, which is the patient. There are offices that have patients who want and appreciate phone calls to confirm their appointments but there are also many patients who prefer a text message or email reminder. Today, most people don’t answer their phone and instead let it go to voicemail, but most will quickly respond to an email or text message.
What is the purpose of a confirmation call? Is it to make the call or is it to confirm the patient? I am going to challenge you to agree that it is to confirm the patient. If everyone prefers different types of communication, then I want to communicate to my patients in a way that I know they will respond. The goal is to know they are going to arrive for their appointment. If you don’t believe me, ask your front office team how many people they reach on the phone when they make their confirmation calls. Most of the time, when confirming patients, we leave a message and if we really want to confirm, the patient must call us back, which is an inefficient process and not personalized to the patient at all.
How much time are you wasting? We are always looking for ways to make our systems more efficient and give us more time to get more accomplished. By making all the confirmation calls to our patients and leaving messages, when many of them can be and prefer to be confirmed by a text or email, our efforts become a waste of time. I would rather use a resource to confirm my patient in the manner they prefer and give our office the outcome we are looking for - a confirmed patient – and free up time for my team to do other tasks.
Are you really staying in touch with your patients? Recently on Dentaltown, I saw a post from a dentist using an appointment reminder service but wanted to know how to turn off all the other features. He was not interested in any other services it offered for the office and just wants the appointment reminders to be sent. I was happy to see him using the appointment confirmation portion of his service; however, I was still concerned the dentist was missing an important opportunity to utilize a multitude of other functions offered with services like this to stay in touch with patients.
Before I outline several of the options patient contact services offer and the reason I suggest you use them, I want to share a conversation I had recently with my friend, Tracy Francis, one of the founders of DDS GP.
He and I were talking about dental offices and the idea that our patients are our customers. With many other businesses, the customer frequents the business regularly resulting in a loyal relationship between the customer and the business. When Tracy is talking with dentists, he asks them how good their relationship is with their patients. Most say good or excellent. Then, he asks them about their long-term patients – they are healthy and now coming in for regular maintenance - how much time a year do you spend with them? The answer is usually somewhere between 20 minutes a year to three hours a year. He then challenges them by saying, honestly, how can you have a great or excellent relationship with someone that you only spend a few minutes or hours with in a one year time frame. Think about that!
The idea of a personal relationship is my main reason for using the other options available through these services to communicate with patients. Make sure during the 6-month period that you do not see a patient in the office, you are still communicating with them and staying in the forefront of their minds.
There are 5 reasons it is important you do this.
- Your patients are being marketed to by most of your competition on a regular basis and you must ensure that you are staying in front of them during this period in between their appointments so they remember why they come to your office and not try a new office.
- People are not going to refer your office if they are not thinking about you. Make sure you send things to remind them about your office and offer them value during those times they are not in the office. If they are thinking about you, they will tell others.
- Remind them why they are happy with you and communicate to them in a way they will have a reason to talk about you to other people, thereby increasing the number of new patients by word of mouth referrals.
- Sometimes patients fall out of the schedule and time flies and they forget to rebook their broken appointment. They are not constantly thinking about calling to book a dental appointment because we may not be their favorite place to visit.
- Now that you have acquired this person as a new patient, they have learned to like your office and trust you. This person is much more likely to do cosmetic or optional treatment now that they are an established patient.
In my office, we use RevenueWell, which I can confirm offers all the following options I suggest you use – at minimum – in your office. It is safe to assume that other companies will offer similar options.
Birthday Emails: Birthday emails are a great way to stay connected with patients in a non-dental focused-way and get them talking about your office with others. We personalized our email with a short video of our team wishing them a happy birthday that helps us to stand out on their birthday and many times we gain new patients from those emails because they show the video to other people, who may need a dentist and decided to call our office because of that email.
Overdue Recare and Treatment Emails: Like I mentioned before, people are not standing in line to get dentistry done and it tends to be forgotten about by the patient. Our job is to make sure our patients get and/or remain stable and healthy when it comes to their oral health and if we don’t remind them to get back in, no one will.
Newsletters: It only takes a few minutes for one of your employees to put together a newsletter, but it accomplishes two things. First, it can help show the latest and greatest services you offer or great dentistry you do, which could result in this patient asking more the next time they are in the office. Second, you share the personal side of your office and your team, which reminds the patients how great your office is and why they should not go to any of your competition and stay loyal to you and your office.