Busy orthodontic practices have always had to be in constant communication with patients. Patients will always need appointments, payment reminders, practice updates, etc… it’s nothing new. What is new is how practices are communicating. While traditional patient communication methods like phones and letters have always provided a good measure of reliability, new technologies and methods such as email, social media, and texts offer greater convenience, efficiency, and effectiveness. With so many options, the challenge becomes using the right communication vehicle…at the right time…for the right situation. It can be a head-scratcher that leaves many orthodontic practices scrambling to figure out the best approach.

Map Out a Plan

Before determining what types of tech-based communication you may or may not want to use, it’s useful to map out an effective communications plan. Begin by breaking down patient communications into categories such as marketing, appointments, overdue payments, practice updates, etc. Taking on one area at a time, create a flow chart diagram of how it will all work. Let’s examine the process for overdue patients. First, your front desk should contact them on the day they are overdue. Patients who are not reached or scheduled can then be contacted one, two, or even three times, 10 days apart. This may then be followed by a final form of contact as the patient is moving into overdue treatment and potential final case quality issues. Once this is all established step-by-step through a visual flow chart process, you can then evaluate the methods and technologies that will be most beneficial. In the example of the overdue patient, the first form of contact could be to their cell phone, that call or text could then be followed by a series of three emails 10 days apart, and then a final hardcopy letter can be sent as a last resort.

If this sounds time-consuming, just think of how easy things will become once you’ve established an effective plan. Plus, this process won’t be nearly as involved for every communication category. For example, it’s very common for practices to communicate with patients for confirmation calls by a simple email and/or text message.

Embrace New Technology

Embracing new technology can help tremendously as every step in a patient communication plan can be performed online or automated by practice management software. You can schedule new patients with software, confirm appointments by automatic texts, enter patient information online, follow up first visits with automatic welcome messages via text, sign contracts electronically, collect payments via credit card, and electronically design the scheduling sequence. Many practices even allow patients to make their own appointments online and access information such as health histories and patient forms prior to coming to the office.

Planning for other important categories that directly address customer service and boost production can run swiftly as well. There are technologies that will automatically text, email, or send hardcopy letters asking parents and patients to submit reviews or complete surveys. There is also software that will automatically generate text messages to encourage parents and patients to rate the practice based on their most recent appointment. In addition, we are seeing the emergence of technologies related to the telephone system such as automated chat. These chats allow patients to talk with an individual who represents the practice rather than calling the practice for information when deciding whether or not to make an appointment.

As I often tell practices whenever they’re making improvements, don’t try to do everything at once. Select one key area at a time. Whether you’re creating a program to encourage patient feedback or a program for contacting overdue patients, take the time to ensure that they become a true habit in the practice.

When it comes to patient communication technology, the possibilities are numerous.The key is to create a flow chart for each type of communication, choose the most effective method for each, and add one key item at a time in order to ensure efficiency and effectiveness. OP

Roger-Levin_062016_croppedRoger P. Levin, DDS, is a third-generation general dentist and the founder and CEO of Levin Group Inc, a dental management consulting firm that has worked with over 26,000 dentists. Levin, an internationally known dental practice management speaker, has written 65 books and over 4,300 articles. He is also the executive founder of Dental Business Study Clubs—Dentistry’s only All-Business Study Clubs, the next generation of dental business education.