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Nurturing the two R's — relationship and reputation — online

Aug. 1, 2009
In these challenging economic times, the quality of our patient relationships is more important than ever.

By Cynthia Brattesani, DDS

For more on this topic, go to www.dentaleconomics.com and search using the following key words: technology, online technologies, patient relationships, Internet, appointment reminders, patient communication, Dr. Cynthia Brattesani.

In these challenging economic times, the quality of our patient relationships is more important than ever. Patients expect us to earn their loyalty, and rightly so! Providing impeccable dentistry isn't enough — we need to do everything we can to make it easier and more pleasant for our patients to work with us. I've discovered that by leveraging the power of the Internet and today's online technologies, we can personalize and enhance the dental experience as never before. I'm excited to share with you how something as seemingly impersonal as software has improved our image as a dental practice that truly cares for our patients. It has increased our patients' commitment to dentistry and our office, contributed to steadily rising production, expanded our patient base, and made life easier for our team and our patients.

Your relationships online

• It's all about the patient. As dentists, all of us have the opportunity to use technology for the benefit of our patients and practices. At my practice, when we choose a new technology, we ask: How will this serve our patients? Will it save them time or relieve their discomfort? How will it improve their overall dental health?

We asked ourselves these exact questions nearly five years ago when we agreed to serve as a test site for an online patient communication and reputational management software system called Demandforce. It passed the litmus test back then and today, and it is not an exaggeration to say that it has revolutionized our practice — so much so that I would have a revolt on my hands if I ever took it away.

• Changing times change the way we communicate. Do you know how many of your patients get their morning news online? Carry a cell phone or BlackBerry? Text their children about their chores or homework? We need to communicate with our patients in ways that are most comfortable and convenient for them. In my practice, we now send appointment reminders to our patients by e-mail and text messaging. More than 90% of patients have e-mail, so we only call 10% to 20% of our patients to remind them of their appointments. (If the appointment is complicated, we call anyway.) This greatly reduces outbound calls, so our front office can devote their time to ensuring a quality experience for our patients.

We are also able to fill gaps in our schedule, since patients and prospective patients can request appointments online. When there are cancellations or openings, our schedulers refer to an online dashboard where they can see a list of patients seeking appointments, and the contact information and requested dates and times are right at their fingertips. The convenience of this technology extends to the back office as well; we send patients last-minute reminders regarding appointments or premedication, which helps ensure that our patients are on time and prepared for their visit.

By leveraging this technology, I have actually reactivated 86 patients who were lost to me (they hadn't been in for more than a year), welcomed an average of 28 new patients a month, and watched our no-show rate drop 35%.

Your reputation online

• Invitations. In my practice, every patient visit is followed by an automatic thank you e-mail with an invitation to complete a patient satisfaction survey and/or refer friends or family to the practice. I have received more than 2,200 patient satisfaction surveys and had more than 99% of patients say they would refer their friends. For me, those results are the ultimate compliment from my patients.

All of that is new and exciting, but Demandforce has gone a step further and made this information available online. Through a partnership with Google, the world's largest search engine, our patients can share their personal experience with us and literally thousands of prospective patients.

• The next generation in “water cooler” talk. Word-of-mouth remains the number one way patients find their way to our practice. Add a computer keyboard and a mouse, and you've got the Internet empowering your patients to be your strongest champions.

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Have you Googled yourself? It's almost certain that you and your practice already have a fledgling online reputation, and you may or may not like what you see. There are a number of sites on the Internet — Yelp, Yahoo!, Insider Pages, and CitySearch to name a few — that allow consumers to rate your business, whether or not they've actually visited your practice. I value my reputation and my brand, as you do yours. So you will recognize just how important it is to manage and protect what you've worked so hard to establish. How, you ask?

An integrated solution that communicates with patients and solicits ratings and reviews will help you grow and manage your online reputation — to help you put your best face forward by gathering as many genuine reviews as possible, all grounded in actual experience with your office. After all, the key to shaping your overall reputation is having enough reviews to be statistically relevant to Google and meaningful to those who find them online.

Many of us are a bit apprehensive when it comes to Internet exposure. The fact is, everyone will experience a less-than-favorable review now and then. This is nothing to dwell on for two reasons. First, you gain a unique insight into how patients feel and what they think about your practice, including when someone has an unpleasant experience. It's really powerful when you can connect with a patient and say, “I'm sorry you had a bad experience. How can we make it up to you?” Second, and most important, your reputation is based on the overall impression you instill in someone and overall rating you receive. In fact, if all of your reviews were perfect, readers would become suspicious and doubt the integrity of your information! In leveraging technology to build my online reputation, I also have the peace of mind that the reviews that are uploaded are certified reviews with accurate and fair content from actual patients, and the volume needed to create a solid, positive overall impression of my practice.

• Rising above the rank and file to grow your practice. If you've ever looked at sponsor placement on Google or other search engines, you know that while it can be effective, it is enormously expensive; you may pay as much as $6 per click! You can optimize your Web site (called search engine optimization, or SEO) to improve your ranking in the free, natural search results, but this takes time and still doesn't guarantee your practice will show up in relevant searches.

The fact is, you need to quickly build a credible, online reputation to rise to the top in online searches. However you choose to do it, you need to gather as many certified reviews from your patients as you can. I collected 14 reviews in five years on Yelp. I collected more than 290 public reviews in less than nine months with Demandforce, and it was easy for me, my team, and my patients. In addition, your patient reviews are automatically uploaded to your profile on Google. This raises your ranking so patients find you, instead of your competitors first.

• Finding value. If you are like me, you have invested a great amount of time and effort into promoting your practice, shaping your brand, and establishing lifelong relationships with your patients. But do you know your actual return on investment?

Our system automatically sends out e-mail hygiene and appointment reminders and thank you messages after each appointment. As part of the thank you message, patients can choose to submit a confidential survey about their visit, as well as a public review that automatically gets uploaded to my Google profile.

Before the reviews go to Google, I have the opportunity to read each one and post a response or ask for a review to be removed if it is inappropriate.

With this system, I also have the ability to create a reputational-based Web site that provides additional information about my practice: specialties, languages spoken, insurance accepted, hours of operation, and affiliations. I can even integrate online scheduling so when prospective patients visit my profile, they can directly request an appointment, any time of any day, regardless of my hours. There has never been an easier or more affordable way to welcome new patients to my practice.

Finally, as with any product you introduce to your patients, you want to make sure it is something that you can stand behind and that the vendor can stand behind as well. I saw the value in the software solution I implemented, and the vendor guarantees to generate at least three times the amount that I spend on their product each month or the next month is free. I stand behind all of my work and it's refreshing to see that a vendor is making the same commitment to me that I make to my patients.

Throughout my career, I have found few products that have materially impacted the economics of my practice. Demandforce is among those and it has been a key component of the success I have experienced since I implemented it five years ago. Not a single day goes by without a patient thanking me or one of my team members about our system. Clearly, we have found a tool that demonstrates to our patients that we really care about making life a little easier for them. In the process, it has even made life easier and better for me and my team.

Dr. Cynthia Brattesani, a 1989 graduate of the UCSF School of Dentistry, received the prestigious ADA Golden Apple New Dentist Leadership Award. She lectures on technology in the dental office, focusing on adding value to the patient's experience. Dr. Brattesani maintains a private practice in San Francisco. Send her an e-mail at [email protected].i>

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