Utilizing e-mail and text messaging will reduce missed appointments and increase the level of patient education in your practice
Share of mind- What is it and how is this new marketing term affecting your practice? Share of mind is the new hot topic in corporate America today. Simply put, it is the amount of thought and priority placed on a product or service by a consumer.
Let’s face it. People are busy. They barely have time to sit down to a family dinner, let alone read the junk mail that arrives at their doors. The “to do” lists are growing ever longer, and there’s less time to get it all done. Where our practices fit into our patients’ lives is a question that we should be asking ourselves.
How often does the average patient think about his or her dental health and our offices? Not as often as we’d like, unfortunately. This is the main reason we are seeing more cancelled - or even worse - missed appointments in our practices.
I’d rather have a patient call and reschedule an appointment because he or she is sick than have a patient miss an appointment because of a gap in communications. Maybe that patient didn’t get a message left by our office. Maybe my office manager forgot to follow up with one of the messages she left. Perhaps the patient confirmed and simply forgot that day. In any case, this is a situation that can have a devastating effect on production and revenue.
How often does a missed or cancelled appointment occur in your practice? I’ll bet it happens at least once or twice a week. The more important question is how is this affecting your production? How much time is your front desk spending every day trying to confirm appointments? It’s estimated that the average practice loses more than $50,000 per year in missed appointments. It could be double or triple that amount in a larger practice. If you have 100 missed appointments at an average production of $500 per hour, you’re at $50,000 in lost revenues for the year. That’s with only two missed appointments a week!
E-mail and text messaging
So what can we do? The answer is rather simple. The most efficient practices are implementing an effective, noninvasive method of confirming and reminding patients about appointments. I like to call this “ET Communications,” with “ET” standing for e-mail and text messaging.
There are more than 200 million cell phones in the U.S. More than 90 percent of them have text-message capabilities. In March of this year alone, more than 5 billion text messages were sent in the U.S. According to a Pew Internet & American Life Project survey, the percentage of people using text messaging to communicate is on the rise, with more than 60 percent of 18 to 27-year-olds and more than 35 percent of 28 to 39-year-olds using text messaging on a daily basis. With ET Communications, we can send a patient an e-mail or a text message three days prior to the appointment, and have that person confirm the appointment without ever picking up the phone. We then follow up with a friendly reminder on the morning of the appointment. Missed appointments have been cut in half and the front office staff is now free to handle more productive functions in the office. The increased production and decreased expense benefits of this system make it a “must-have” in every office.
Atrophy and awareness
Acquiring new patients in a dental practice can be a very costly proposition. The marketing expense of acquiring a new patient can often cost seven times more than retaining an existing patient. There’s really no way of knowing whether a patient simply skipped a scheduled six-month prophy or left your practice for another reason. The reason may have been something you did, but more than likely, the patient received a marketing piece from another practice advertising a service the patient didn’t think you offered. But what if you did offer that technology or procedure? How would you feel if you knew that a patient went to another practice for something you provide in your office?
Patient education and constant communication with your patients are two of the most important marketing strategies you can implement in your practice. There is a mountain of competition out there, marketing on a daily basis to steal your patients away from you. Whether you are aware of this or not ... it’s happening! All your patients need from you is a reminder that you are there for them and you care about their oral and overall health. It’s imperative to convey the value of your technology and services on a consistent basis. This simple tactic will cut your yearly practice atrophy level in half. The question is obviously how to accomplish this in the most cost-effective and results-oriented manner.
The most effective answer to communicating the value of your services and technology is an e-mail newsletter. An e-mail newsletter is extremely effective in achieving the task of patient communication and education. Remember, patients want information at their fingertips and on their terms. More than 90 percent of Americans utilize e-mail as a major form of communication. Due to the highly reduced cost of an e-newsletter as opposed to a print newsletter, you can send it to your patients on a monthly basis. Your e-newsletter should contain a monthly memo or office update, an informative article, and a promotion endorsing a service you provide. This e-newsletter should also have a link to your Web site, so patients can follow up on the information in the newsletter with further education from your Web site. Finally, the e-newsletter should be easily forwarded to other potential patients with the click of a button.
Let’s take a look at a very conservative example - an e-newsletter mailed to 500 patients monthly. Let’s say that 3 percent of these patients forward the newsletter to family and friends. That’s 15 potential patients who will visit your Web site. If your Web site performs its job correctly, it will “sell” these potential patients on why your practice is the best option for them.
While there are a number of companies that provide text and e-mail services as a form of relationship marketing, I chose TheOnlinePractice.com. They offer a very inexpensive, high-end seamless integration that allows you to control all of your practice communications from a simple control panel including your Web site, e-newsletter, and text/e-mail appointment confirmations. They specialize in the dental field and I found their customer service is reliable and willing to take the time to walk you through this easy-to-use solution.
Remember, 90 percent of the population utilizes e-mail as a form of communication. It’s time you start taking full advantage of this technology!
Dr. Zev Kaufman is an international lecturer and author, well-known among his peers for being on the cutting edge of dental treatment and technology. He is a member of the Academy of Osseointegration, the American College of Prosthodontists, and the Omicron Kappa Upsilon Dental Honor Society. As a postgraduate instructor at NYU College of Dentistry, Dr. Kaufman presents a weekly seminar to the senior residents, emphasizing his unique approach to “patient-centered, efficient, implant treatment.” He can be reached via his Web site at www.DentalImplantsManhattan.com.