Getting off hold and online

Jan. 1, 2006
Welcome to a new year! It is hard to believe that it is 2006 - wasn’t it just yesterday that we were celebrating the turn of the century? What was revolutionary a few years ago has become mainstream today.

Welcome to a new year! It is hard to believe that it is 2006 - wasn’t it just yesterday that we were celebrating the turn of the century? What was revolutionary a few years ago has become mainstream today. I remember being approached about 10 years ago to build a Web site for my consulting and speaking business. My response was “Don’t think I need one - dentistry doesn’t seem to be utilizing the Internet very much.”

My thinking has certainly changed as the Internet has quickly become mainstream. (Think about the number of e-mail addresses in your address book.) In just a short period of time, a language of new words, meanings, and symbols has emerged: e-mail, blogger, ISP, wireless networking, broadband, bluetooth, search engines, yahoo (I thought we yelled that at the rodeo), google (is that really a word?), dot.org, dot.net, and log-on are all part of our daily vocabulary.

I cannot imagine running my business without the Internet. I communicate with clients, coach dental teams, respond to meeting planners, schedule lectures and seminars, answer questions, and communicate with dentists and dental staff, all over the world. And I do it at my desk, or in an airport, anywhere and any time of the day or night. How amazing is that?!

The Internet is a part of our lives. According to Pew Research, 10 percent of the population used the internet in 1995, over 60 percent use it today, and 93 percent of people with incomes over $75,000 regularly use the net. People stay connected via instant messaging (IM), text messaging on cell phones, and dot.com just about everything.

Research also suggests that 90 percent of people with college educations are online. “Senior” magazine reports that the number of seniors online continues to grow, and one of their main focus areas is reading about and researching health-related issues. Hello, that’s us - oral health falls under that category. I suspect that you have had patients come to your office and ask about a dental article that they “read on the net.”

If your office is not already connected to the Web, then do it. Begin to collect e-mail addresses and ask patients if they wish to communicate with your office in this way.

Remember all the trouble you went through to be HIPAA-compliant?This is where the payback comes into play.

Maintaining the recall system and managing the daily hygiene and doctor schedule

We all know how time-consuming and frustrating this can be - a big challenge for many dental teams everywhere. My lectures are packed on the topic of “Scheduling Controls,” “Reducing Cancellations,” and “Appointment Failures.” One of the questions that I routinely ask audiences at lectures is about office usage of the Internet. The positive responses have taken a huge leap during the last two years! Many of my consulting clients have been utilizing e-mail to communicate with patients for several years - with very positive results. Consider how efficient your business/scheduling coordinator would be if that person could reduce outgoing telephone calls and the hours spent playing telephone tag by 40 to 60 percent. Think about how easy it would be if you could e-mail overdue patients with scheduling reminders and verify confirmed appointments in the schedule. Electronic appointment cards can be sent directly to patients’ computers, PDAs, or cell phones. There are scheduling programs that even allow patients to schedule their own appointments.

Many dentists send e-mail newsletters filled with information about the office, the doctor and staff, and timely dental research updates to keep patients informed. Through patient education, you “plant seeds” about the opportunities available to restore a smile, replace missing teeth, and/or the implications of periodontal disease. On your practice Web site, you can direct patients to other links and sites which offer quality information. Being available online makes communication more convenient for patients. It is the utmost in customer service.

Most importantly, keeping your name in front of the patient and providing relevant dental information is a practice-builder.

As the new year begins, think about incorporating e-communication into your practice.

It is the future ... and it is now. May this year bring you good health, great joy, and success.

Annette Ashley Linder, BS, RDH, is a recognized leader in the field and an award-winning speaker and consultant. She is a featured speaker at dental meetings and provides in-office consulting services with her team of business and clinical consultants. She may be reached at her Web site at AnnetteLinder.com, via e-mail at [email protected], or by phone at (772) 546-2207.

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