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Is your practice's digital front door making the right impression?

Feb. 17, 2022
Dental offices are moving toward becoming fully digital, and the first impression new patients get of a practice is based on its digital "front door." Does yours need renovation?

Out of all health-care sectors, dentistry was one of the most reluctant to accept digitization and new administrative and organizational technologies. Dental innovations have lagged behind for years, but the coronavirus pandemic forced dental practices to change their ways. When patients became more reluctant to visit health-care offices due to the risk of exposure, dentists were forced to rely on technology in order to reach their patients. Now, dentists are realizing that they need to market their practices and cultivate a patient experience that suits the present, complete with digital amenities. Dentists need to transform their digital front door.

Since 1997, dentistry has made small shifts toward digitization (figure 1). In the early 2000s, paper charts were the primary source of patient
information. It took more than 10 years for offices to go paperless, and around 2018, dental practices started embracing the idea of automation—especially as it pertained to online scheduling. Now we are on the cusp of another shift: dentistry must embrace the digital front door.

Your “front door” makes the first impression

A practice’s digital front door is a framework by which dentists can understand the impact of their virtual interactions with clients. Just as you want your physical office to offer a positive and inviting experience, your digital front door is the first impression your clients will get of your business—especially in a time when telehealth appointments are becoming more common.

This doesn’t necessarily have to do with design, but is more about the ways patients are served immediately upon their virtual “arrival” to your practice—like a practice’s website, virtual scheduling, or when they receive intake forms via email. In order to make the best impression, dentists must focus on providing a streamlined and easy-to-use digital experience. This means virtual intake forms, digital payments, appointment scheduling, insurance verification, documentation, and virtual consults should be intuitive and accessible for all patients. Dentists will benefit from an all-inclusive digital platform that offers all the elements of a digital front door in a single space.

Carefully curating your practice’s digital front door will ensure that patients have a positive experience. Where you may invest in soothing decor, comfortable seating, pens, paper, and a personable staff for your in-person office, your digital front door requires investments in technology that streamline the patient experience and make telehealth more accessible and less cumbersome.

Automation keeps practices competitive

Automated systems are a key component in providing a positive experience because they keep practices on track with each patient’s
appointments, files, and documents. While automation certainly helps the patient, it also helps office managers, nurses, technicians, and dentists streamline their workflows and reduce the overall administrative burden of running a practice. In a 2020 phone survey conducted by SRS Web Solutions, we spoke with 2,500 dental practices and found that digital intake processes reduce patient wait time by 80% and save front office managers 30% of the time they spend on documentation.1

Digital documentation is preferable to paperwork because digital forms can be saved long term, are easily updated without having to fill out an entirely new form, can be accessed from anywhere (before, during, and after an appointment), and reduce time in the waiting room. Digital forms can also help reduce errors, increase visibility into any missing information, and ensure that intake forms are filled out accurately, correctly, and completely. Our study found that patients saved an average of 20 minutes each when digital intake processes were used (figure 2).1 Virtual insurance verification can also help dentists reduce the frustration of back-and-forth communication with patients and with insurance companies. Virtual consults help patients looking for cosmetic procedures weigh the options, costs, and recovery time without having to travel to the office and sacrifice a day of work. Overall, by reducing the time spent on administrative tasks, dentists can devote more time to patient-centered care.

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Digital dental administration is also more sustainable because it reduces the amount of paper wasted and a practice’s carbon footprint. A single
dental practice uses an average of 10,000 sheets of paper every year.2 And dental offices across the United States and the United Kingdom produce more than 200,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually. Dentists must take these environmental factors into account when managing their practices.

The convenience of the digital front door is driving patient adoption, and dental practices need to accept this shift. Patients are ready for more efficient practices and more accessible options for care, such as virtual consultations and digital intake forms (figure 3).3 It’s time for dentistry to become a frontrunner in the movement toward health-care automation and digitization. Practices that hesitate to embrace these technologies will watch their competitors surpass them. It’s time we give our patients something to smile about, whether they’re visiting in person or stepping through the digital front door.

Editor's note: This article appeared in the February 2022 print edition of Dental Economics.

References

1. Internal telephone survey. SRS Web Solutions. 2020.

2. Pockrass I. Going paperless increases efficiency and helps your practice become environmentally friendly. Dental Products Report. July 6, 2012. https://www.dentalproductsreport.com/view/going-paperless-increases-efficiency-and-helps-your-practice-become-environmentally-f

3. Zimiles A. Four new statistics that prove that telemedicine isn’t just a pandemic fad. Medical Economics. July 8, 2020. https://www.medicaleconomics.com/view/four-new-statistics-that-prove-that-telemedicine-isn-t-just-a-pandemic-fad

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