May 1, 2009
Dental offices are resorting to new ideas to get new patients, and market their services, and equally important, maintain their current patient base.

For more on this topic, go to www.dentaleconomics.com and search using the following key words: recall system, patient base, automated phone calls, video testimonials, Dr. Paul Feuerstein.

Dental offices are resorting to new ideas to get new patients, and market their services, and equally important, maintain their current patient base. The foundation of many general practices is the recall system and schedule. Practice management experts have written volumes on strategies to schedule recalls and “keep the hygiene book full.”

One current difficulty is that many patients have lost their jobs, and the “guaranteed” checkup that insurance pays for may diminish with the accompanying loss of insurance. Although many practices are nonparticipating and do not accept assignment, more do. Tracking this is a challenge despite the sophistication of practice-management systems.

A tedious task is to have a staff member sit down daily and make calls to remind patients of an upcoming appointment. We are lucky if we reach 50% of patients. Many times a message is left for a patient, yet we come in the next day and learn that the patient could not get to the office.

In today's mobile world, people depend more on e-mail and cell phones. Of course, it is equally problematic if you call a person who is out on a date, or a similar circumstance, to remind him or her of tomorrow's periodontal maintenance visit. I have found that most offices do not have a complete record of everyone's contact information. Compounding this is that a business phone number or e-mail address might be different if they have changed or lost their job.

One company offers a service that goes through your database to verify addresses and phone numbers, as well as whether or not the person is still a patient. This service uses public records, national phone books, and databases. When you do get a person's e-mail address, it is best to ask for a personal account. If you get an office address, find out if it is OK to contact the person there. Most new cell phones have e-mail and texting capabilities, which people use.

Fortunately, there are a number of companies that can help you electronically and invisibly. A list of these companies and their Web sites includes:


As you peruse these sites (a more complete list is located in the Download Center at www.dentaleconomics.com), try to find services and techniques that match your office needs. I share this menu of companies for evaluation and basis of comparison. The gratifying aspect is that most of these products, once installed, read through your patient data and appointment book (without changing anything, they just read) and automatically contact patients according to parameters that you have already determined.

You have options of automated phone calls, text messages, e-mails, and even postcards. The advantage of this is that many of the systems automatically follow up on the contact so that the patient does not slip through the cracks. They will also find patients who have not been in for a while.

here are different categories of what you will want to accomplish. First, there are confirmations of upcoming appointments in the next day or two. Companies offer e-mail, text messages, and/or automated phone calls. Some companies use a “computer voice” while others use a human voice (your voice can be recorded in one of the systems). Some actually have a live person make the calls.

Recall appointments made far in advance can be confirmed with e-mail, text, phone, postcards, and letters. An additional service is to contact patients after visits with short patient surveys.

Other interesting services include video testimonials by patients, daily reminders to the office staff, as well as reports of the system's progress. There are adjunct services that allow patients to access some of their records, look up and pay bills, and make appointments. These services cost from $150 to $500 per month plus setup or initialization charges.

Take a look at these companies, get online demos, and ask for references. Keep in mind that the doctor is not the best person to talk to — the front office staff are the people who will give you the real answers.

Dr. Paul Feuerstein installed one of dentistry's first computers in 1978. For more than 20 years, he has taught technology courses. A mainstay at technology sessions, Dr. Feuerstein is an ADA seminar series speaker. A general practitioner in North Billerica, Mass., since 1973, Dr. Feuerstein maintains a Web site (www.computersindentistry.com) and can be reached by e-mail at [email protected].

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