Patient education: It's not just pamphlets anymore

For years, patient education has been one of the most important supporting pillars of any successful dental practice. The benefits are obvious.

By Glenn Lombardi

For years, patient education has been one of the most important supporting pillars of any successful dental practice. The benefits are obvious. Not only does patient education help deliver the dental information patients need, it also provides treatment justification, increases treatment acceptance, and can even help to prevent oral health problems in the first place.

Healthy practices need patient education materials, and the odds are good that you already have some in one form or another. But is your patient education living up to the standards of the modern world?

Information is no longer confined to the realm of physical paper-and-ink materials. Technology has bloomed, and we have moved on. We have graduated from card catalogs to databases, from the Yellow Pages to search engines, from brochures to websites.

Every piece of information we could ever want is now digital and available for immediate download from anywhere that supports a smart device. With so much of the world and the way we learn rooted in technology, one begins to wonder: "Is that stack of pamphlets in my office doing its job? Are my patients reading them? Are they even visible anymore?"

The answer is yes … but mostly no.

It will always be important to provide patients with the educational materials they need, and some patients will always feel more comfortable with a print article than anything digital. These patients, however, are swiftly becoming the minority.

Today, most want to know as much as they can even before they set foot in your office. They are hungry for information, and the first place they look is on the Internet. So the question is not "When do I get rid of print?" Rather, it is "How do I make patient education part of my Web presence?"

The answer is simple: There are several services that provide online patient education materials, and any of them will get your information online. But not all patient education services are created equal.

Good patient education is expansive. An ideal library will include at least a thousand articles. That might seem like an exorbitant number, but when the materials do not demand physical office space, it's quite a realistic expectation. Electronic patient education lets you fit the entire wealth of knowledge your practice has to offer in nothing but thin air. The size possibilities are nearly endless.

Good patient education uses a variety of media. Articles are obviously essential but so are other methods of delivery. The best libraries cater to a variety of learning styles by using not only articles, but high-definition videos, artistic illustrations, and anatomically correct diagrams optimized for mobile use.

Good patient education is continually updated. Your patients deserve the most up-to-date information available. As new treatments come into use, they should have articles in your patient education library. The same goes for any updates to older treatments.

Good patient education is entertaining and engaging. This is perhaps the most important point of all. Naturally, your patient education should be informative, but it also needs to be composed in a style that holds your patients' attention. The trick here is usually esthetic superiority - the more beautiful your educational materials, the more time patients will spend looking at them. But some of the best patient-education services take this principle even a step further, using tactics such as celebrity articles where stars of all varieties discuss how dental care has affected their lives and careers. This kind of next-level engagement is only possible as part of an online platform, and it's so effective that it can actually make patients want to read about dentistry.

Patient education is still one of the most important services your practice has to offer, but the advent of the digital world means offering it in new and innovative ways. Patients should have access to informative, engaging content, and they should be able to read, watch, or study it from anywhere on their mobile devices. Not only will this keep them happy and informed, it will make you an educational resource for the community.

Glenn Lombardi is president of Officite, the largest provider of websites and online marketing strategies for health-care professionals. Officite has built more than 20,000 websites since 2002, and specializes in helping dentists build full, modern Web presence for their practices. For more information, visit www.officite.com or call (800) 908-2483.

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