By Steven Martinez
With orthodontic practices short staffed, SmileSuite, a new concierge solution, steps in to take on the duties of patient onboarding and follow-up.
Orthodontic practices are short staffed—a trend that’s expected to continue. As a result, each member of the orthodontic team is tasked to take on additional duties in what was already a busy day. But what if you could outsource some of those tasks, while both reducing the likelihood of employee burnout and improving patient starts.
That’s where SmileSuite comes in. Founded by New York-based orthodontist Anthony Bonavoglia, DDS, MS, SmileSuite is a patient follow-up solution that both communicates with prospective patients that have reached out to the practice—whether by phone, email, or text—and onboards new patients. SmileSuite’s goal: Help the practice keep their patient base growing.
When it comes to prospective patients, the concierge SmileSuite team responds to patient inquiries, even on nights and weekends. For new patients, the team gathers patient health history and insurance benefits information, which it can verify; determines what kind of treatment a customer is seeking; and schedules the new patient exam. If a prospective patient doesn’t begin treatment immediately, SmileSuite will follow up and keep in touch with the patient. And for patients who cancel or are no-shows, the team will continue to follow up to reschedule.
A Tool to Increase a Practice’s Bandwidth
SmileSuite grew out of Bonavoglia’s own need for a system that could streamline patient onboarding in his own practice. Realizing at the time that there weren’t any slider programs available that were fully customizable and programmable for his office, he started developing the software that would become SmileSuite. After using his system for a while, he realized that there might be an audience for the system and branched out to work with a few other orthodontic practices.
“We found that the missing link in a lot of offices was that service interaction, taking in the new patient phone call,” says Bonavoglia. “Practices oftentimes don’t have the bandwidth or the tools to properly follow up on a patient that doesn’t start with treatment.”
His team started building some of the tools to bring the service to a third-party site and eventually offer it to other practices.
White-Glove Patient Onboarding Service
Bonavoglia doesn’t like the term call center, potentially bringing to mind an unsophisticated office of cheaply paid workers in some far-off place. He prefers to label SmileSuite a white-glove service.
Its concierge team is trained by SmileSuite and based in the United States, providing 14 hours of morning-till-night, 7 days a week service to its clients that is ostensibly in-house, though much of its workforce is remote.
SmileSuite partners with OrthoSynetics for insurance verification, but the rest of the team is under the SmileSuite umbrella.
The service also provides photos, videos, financial options, and marketing that a practice wants to highlight to describe for the patient what treatment might entail for them at the specific practice. The patient is sent a link specific to them through email or text that is password protected and HIPAA compliant.
The Upside of Outsourcing Patient Onboarding
Of course, with staffing shortages, offloading any duties taken care of by practice staff has a certain amount of upside for doctors.
“We’ve found, especially over the last couple of years since the staffing shortage really started picking up, that many offices can scale back some of their employee base using outsourced products,” says Bonavoglia. “I think we fit right into that niche. It’s been a big driving force on why we’ve been so successful in the last year.”
Time saved answering and following up on phone calls frees up orthodontic practice staff to spend more time meaningfully interacting with patients. So, while SmileSuite’s offering might not replace any single practice position, it touches on activities that scheduling, treatment, and financial coordinators would typically have set aside time to accomplish.
“We do touch upon a couple of different positions, but what practices see is the benefit of the time savings they get with using a program like ours,” says Bonavoglia. “We have a number of different packages that they can choose from based on how involved they want us to be in their daily workflows.”
Service Packages Customized to Practice Needs
SmileSuite offers different service tiers or packages that orthodontists can choose from depending on their needs. An intake package includes handling new patient phone calls 7 days a week, managing patient forms, multiple calendars, and the ability to tie into a practice’s online scheduler if they have one.
SmileSuite’s full suite package offers a more robust use of the company’s software and post-consultation services and follow-up.
Typically, SmileSuite will tie its services into a practice’s voice over IP (VoIP) phone system so that when someone calls and chooses the option for a new customer, their call routes to SmileSuite’s team.
The SmileSuite team answers calls using the practice’s scripting, so as far as the customer knows, they’re talking to someone on the staff.
“We do a fairly robust onboarding process to make sure that we understand the feel of the practice and how they want the phones to be answered,” says Bonavoglia. “Then we use local phone numbers when we call out, so if we need to reach out to a patient to get some additional information, it’s coming from a local number.”
Benefits of Outsourcing for the New Practice
Outsourcing the onboarding process has some obvious benefits for large practices with large pools of patients. Still, Bonavoglia, who runs a large practice, says that SmileSuite has many small startup practices that find value in SmileSuite’s services.
He says that for an orthodontist starting out who may even be working someplace else several days of the week, having someone to answer calls and schedule new patients can help keep down the costs of paying staff.
“We’re handling new patients and doing post-consultation follow-up, so we have a fair number of practices where SmileSuite is it—they don’t even have another employee,” says Bonavoglia. “I think it’s really appealing to them because it allows them to get off the ground without having to invest in a full-time employee.”
Consistency in Messaging
A less tangible benefit that SmileSuite offers is consistency, says Bonavoglia. With in-house staff, practices must train them, and when that employee leaves, the practice must train a new person to take over.
Orthodontists also quickly discover how many people call on weekends and after hours. Bonavoglia says one orthodontist who recently signed up had three new patients schedule in their first weekend.
“People who we work with like that we understand how important this is and that we know what we’re talking about and know the industry,” says Bonavoglia. “I think that gives them a sense of confidence that this isn’t just a call center. This is a business that really understands what we’re doing.” OP