In the modern era, practices must learn how to build relationships with their patients. Retention, increased case acceptance, and new patient referrals are all results of establishing and maintaining strong patient relationships. Yet, today it is more difficult than ever to get and stay in touch with patients. Sending postcards and calling patients seem to be the norm for most dental practices, yet these activities are very time-consuming, expensive, and are becoming less and less effective.
Technology has changed the way we live, especially regarding the choices we make on how to use it. Hearing and using phrases such as “just send me an e-mail” or “you can reach me on my cell” have become commonplace in our society. Keeping up with this technological paradigm shift is essential to running a successful practice to provide a higher level of patient convenience, while at the same time increasing office efficiencies. Technology can automate much of our communications to keep us squarely in the minds of our patients, without sacrificing one ounce of the “personal touch.” Messaging (e-mail, text messaging to cell phones and pagers) is the most popular and rapidly growing form of communication today.
Send patients e-mails
It is clearly time to send patients e-mail. According to Nielsen/NetRatings, more than 204 million Americans (75 percent) have access to the Internet from home and more than 55 million have broadband access. “Checking e-mail” is listed as their primary online activity.
Some 75 percent of the 30 to 49 age group access the Internet, compared to 22 percent of those 65 and over. Women are also increasingly using e-mail, with more than 34 million women between the ages of 35-54 accessing the Internet at home. (Nielsen/NetRatings March 2005.)
E-mail messages can be extremely effective in confirming appointments, communicating post-op care instructions, welcoming new patients, and even sending birthday wishes.
Cell phones and text messaging
More patients depend on cell phones, pagers, and e-mail for their communication needs than ever before. According to an article in 2003 by CNN, “43 percent of homes in the U.S. use cell phones as their primary phone.”
Text messaging - also called SMS (Short Message Service) - is a service available on digital mobile phones that allows short text messages (up to 160 characters) to be received and displayed on the phone. There are currently 182,140,362 wireless subscribers in the U.S. Fifty-two percent (ages 25-34) sent or received text messages in the previous month. Among younger subscribers, “texting” is ubiquitous, with 68 percent (age 18 to 24) sending and receiving text messages. Even older folks are getting into the act, with 14 percent of those over 65 using text messaging. (Mark Donovan, VP M:Metrics, March 2005)
The unique benefits of being able to send a text message to a cell phone are the ability to reach patients wherever they are, the speed of delivery of the message, and contacting patients directly rather than relying on someone else to give them a message. Cutting down on forgotten appointments with same-day reminders, as well as being able to quickly fill last-minute cancellations, are examples of how effective this can be.
Some companies focus on sending e-mail and text messages. Smile Reminder (www.smilereminder.com) is one that specializes in dentistry. It can completely automate the process by being integrated into the practice management software’s scheduler. Another benefit of a service such as Smile Reminder for e-mails is that they use a secure server to send e-mails. There has been a lot of press recently about the new HIPAA regulations as they relate to transmitting sensitive patient information online, so dentists need to be aware of how their “regular” e-mail might be at risk.
Practices actually can increase the “high-touch” factor by making a good impression with their e-mail messaging. HTML e-mail enables the ability to embed a digital image (office logo, team picture, before and after photos) as a jpeg, tiff or other file type within the message. Messages also can include hyperlinks to the practice’s Web site.
Many practices have started to realize the benefits of these services, and that’s why they are highly recommended for the modern digital practice.
Lorne Lavine, DMD, practiced periodontics and implant dentistry for more than 10 years. He is an A+ certified computer repair technician, as well as Network+ certified. He is the president of Dental Technology Consultants, a company that assists dentists in all phases of technology integration in the dental practice. He can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at (866) 204-3398. Visit his Web site at www.thedigitaldentist.com.