7 ways online patient communication tools can improve your practice efficiency

Scott Eklund discusses the importance of having the right tools and systems for patient communication

NovDec2015_PracticeManagement_1200x600Managing a successful practice isn’t just about delivering quality results. To stay profitable, orthodontists and practice managers must reduce no shows, keep schedules full, collect treatment fees, and attract new patients.

In order to achieve these goals, your practice has likely developed a comprehensive, and perhaps complicated, set of systems to manage your daily activities. Many times these existing systems are carried out manually instead of being automated, leading to inconsistent results, inefficient use of your staff’s time, and unhappy patients.

By implementing a robust patient communication system, you can automate many of your processes, save time, and improve the patient experience. The following seven tips will help you take full advantage of your patient communication system and improve your practice efficiency.

1. Appointment reminders and confirmations
How much time and effort is spent in your practice making routine appointment confirmation calls, manually sending emails, or mailing postcards? Not only are these methods time consuming, they are also in-efficient and inconsistent.

By automating the appointment confirmation process through online communications tools, you can significantly cut down on the administrative work required to complete this routine task and drastically reduce no-shows. The numbers on this are pretty clearcut; over 85% of orthodontists say automated reminders reduced no-shows and increased production.¹

These automated reminders reduce stress, as your team knows confirmations will be executed in a timely, complete, and consistent manner. In fact, 87.6% of surveyed dental professionals agreed that automated patient reminders give them the peace of mind to know that all patients are consistently contacted prior to their appointment.¹

2. Collection calls
Calling patients about past-due payments is both time consuming and awkward. As a practice that strives every day to build a strong, positive relationship with each patient, a call about a past-due payment can put stress on this relationship and may not always be effective in soliciting payment quickly.

An email about a past due balance discretely nudges the patient and is much less confrontational or embarrassing than a personal phone call. Most importantly, this is less expensive and more effective in collecting payment. Research shows that within 24 hours of sending an automated past due balance email reminder, 32% of patients make an online payment. Within 48 hours, 50% will make an online payment.²

3. Payment processing
Patients have come to expect online bill-pay with their utilities, credit card, and phone payments, so why is a payment for their orthodontist any different?

The convenience of being able to pay online not only means a quicker turnaround for payments, but the ability to collect payment outside of office hours. Sesame Members receive over 46% of their payments outside of normal business hours³ — meaning the money is in their account and waiting for them by the following morning.

4. Health history forms
When new patients decide to start treatment, they are required to read and fill out an extensive amount of paperwork. This process takes a lot of time and effort by the patient, which slows down your patient-intake process and ultimately makes your practice less efficient.

By providing online health history forms, you allow your patients to complete the forms at their convenience and help make their initial visit more comfortable. It’s also more efficient — an online health history form keeps the data digital, where it can then be used by your practice management system and patient communication systems. It’s a high-tech timesaver that is fast becoming an expectation from patients.

5. Patient feedback
Orthodontic practices can be a hectic environment, and many practices often fail to ask their most valued patients for feedback on how to better serve them. Feedback from patients is a crucial part of understanding where your practice excels, and where there is room for improvement. Timely feedback allows you to keep tabs on your patients’ level of satisfaction and promptly take corrective action as needed.

By automating the feedback process with post-appointment survey emails, you ensure a steady stream of constructive feedback from patients without spending time trying to administer the surveys yourself. You can then use this valuable information to continually improve the experience of patients in your practice and keep them returning. More importantly, you can leverage great reviews and feedback provided by your patients to enhance your online presence, social media channels, and SEO.

6. Newsletters and greetings
Patients want to know what’s new in your practice, and it’s your responsibility to keep them up-to-date. The average orthodontist has hundreds, even thousands of active patients. This magnitude of patients makes it difficult to have a personal connection with each one of them on a regular basis. By reaching them electronically through email newsletters, you can keep in touch with patients and facilitate their engagement in your practice on an ongoing basis.

In addition to formulating informative educational newsletters, a patient communication tool allows you to use email to automatically manage your holiday and birthday greetings. If you’re mailing postcards for these occasions, you can save both time and money by using an automated system. No need to worry about remembering a patient’s birthday; these reminders will go out automatically.

7. Daily schedule
One of the most widely used tools of a successful practice is the daily schedule. This simple tool is the single most critical element determining production and profitability. In a fast-paced environment, it is imperative to have a functional schedule that provides you and your team with the necessary patient information so you can best serve them.

A digital solution can help solve this by bringing your daily schedule and your practice management software together. Sophisticated patient management tools let you view your daily schedule at a glance from any computer, access all your patient data, control reminder settings, and more. Ensure the system you choose integrates with your dental practice management software, so you’re always working off of the latest information for new and existing patients.

Take your practice to the next level
Managing a successful practice takes a lot of work, but with the right tools and systems in place, you can improve staff efficiency, patient experience, and practice profitability. There are many patient communications systems in the market that have a lot of different features and price points. Make sure that the system you choose to work with has the preceding features at a minimum, and you will be on your way to practice success.

Scott Eklund is the Marketing Manager at Sesame Communications, the premier provider of online services for the dental industry. Sesame helps dental and orthodontic practices harness the power of the Internet to accelerate new patient acquisition and transform the patient experience

1. Sesame Communications. 8 Ways to use online patient communication tools to improve practice efficiency and effectiveness: A Sesame Guide to Practice Success [white paper]. https://www.sesamecommunications.com/research/patient-communication/?gated=true. Accessed October 6, 2015.
2. Friedman D. Sesame Communications database of dental and orthodontic members. 2014.
3. Friedman D, TransFirst®. Impact of online bill pay on accounts receivable and practice efficiency [case
study]. 2014. https://www.sesamecommunications.com/wp-content/docs/education-research/Case-Study_Transfirst. pdf. Accessed October 6, 2015.

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