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Your dental practice: To text or not to text?

Feb. 3, 2014
92% of people with cell phones are “texters."  

Every day, I help practices grow and improve by implementing effective marketing techniques. My key strategy is attempting to put myself in the shoes of the target audience — that is, I attempt to think like a patient. So, when I get to have my own patient experiences, it is marketing development gold.

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Yesterday, I had an experience that showed me the value of something I hadn’t yet seen for myself.

I called my doctor’s office during the day, scheduled an appointment, hung up, and wentback to my work. As I was driving home later, I realized that I hadn’t put the time and date of the appointment into my calendar. This is how it went in my head:

Was it Friday? No. I wanted to go in at the end of the day and she said they close early on Fridays. Must have been Thursday. 4:30? Or was it 4:00? I’m pretty sure it was 4:30. It’s NEXT week, right? I hope so, since I can’t go this Thursday. Is it at the east office or the downtown one? The east one is so much closer. That must be the one. I think.

Once I finished talking myself through this, I had a feeling of unbelievable annoyance. Why didn’t they didn’t send me a message with the appointment confirmation? I work for a company that pioneered automated text and email patient messaging. How can it be that my own dentist doesn’t use this? If they had sent me a confirmation text or email, I could have put the information into my calendar with the press of a button and had no more worries.

Not only am I, the patient, frustrated, but my lack of a trustworthy memory poses a number of unfortunate possibilities for the dental office.

Possible Scenario - I’ll just show up at the east office at 4:30 this Thursday. Possible Problem - If it’s the wrong time or place, it means I missed my actual appointment. I’m just another no-show.
Possible Scenario - I’ll intend to call and confirm the details. Possible Problem - I say there’s a 30% chance I’ll make the phone call. I’ll mean to, but then forget until I’m home from work and they’re already closed.
Possible Scenario - I’ll hope the office gets ahold of me to confirm. Possible Problem- Who am I kidding? They won’t get ahold of me. I screen my calls, so if they do call, I probably won’t answer because they aren’t in my phonebook. They can’t leave a voicemail, since I just got a new phone and haven’t set up the mailbox. All I’ll see is a missed call from a number I don’t recognize.

Their office is quickly accumulating a stack of things against them.
They’re losing money — Money from me, money from the patient they could have replaced me with, and money that was spent on paying someone to handle scheduling, confirming, and rescheduling.
2. They’re losing time — A lot of it. Since time equals money, please refer to loss No. 1.
3. They’re losing patient loyalty — …Or rather, the opportunity to establish patient loyalty. The point isn’t that neglecting to send an appointment reminder will make patients unhappy. The point is that sending the reminder makes them happy, and means that they won’t switch to a new practice when they see their friend receive a text reminder from their tech-savvy doc.
4. They’re losing potential referrals — I spend a lot of time talking about ways to market your practice, but let us not forget that the most effective ways to grow your practice is through referrals, meaning the best way to get new patients is to keep the ones you already have as happy as possible.

Now that I’ve seen firsthand how many potential problems could have been avoided if they had texted me the information, I’m confused. Why would any practice choose to keep making countless staff-dialed calls when they could move into the 21st century and reach more people, offer a better patient experience, and increase their percentage of kept appointments?

Here are some statistics to consider:*

86% of people prefer email over the phone for business communications

People check their email an average of 34 times per day

Text messaging
92% of people with cell phones are “texters,” and average 109.5 exchanged texts per day

The average text is read in under 90 seconds

60% of people prefer texts over other forms of communication

The average percentage for practice no-shows ranges from 6% to 26%, depending on the industry.

Let my experience give you some insight into the needs of your patients — start sending electronic appointment reminders.

I’m not telling that you can’t call patients, but at least ask them if they prefer a text or email confirmation before you go about wasting time on unanswered calls and unheard voicemails. If a text is seen in less than 90 seconds, and email is checked 34 times a day, reaching patients electronically is much more reliable than hoping they will answer their phone.

How you choose to implement electronic messaging is up to you. If your staff needs to manually email and text patients, so be it. If you are thinking of using a platform that automates it, there are some big selling points to consider:
• Automated messaging can reduce no-shows by an average of 80%
• Automated messaging can immediately reach 100% of your patients
• Automated messaging can be scheduled to go out at the ideal time based upon practice or patient preferences
• Automated messaging can include auto-confirm options via text response or button press
• Automated messaging can collect other patient information or let them contact you from within the message
• Automated messaging can contact your waiting list if you have a cancellation

I’m not the only person who screens my calls and doesn’t regularly listen to my voicemails. I’m not the only person that doesn’t write things down and has a less-than-reliable memory. I’m not the only person that would be unbelievably grateful and impressed to get a text or email confirmation that I could reference, or better yet, click to put into my calendar with a reminder.

I’m not the only person that would consider ditching my doc for someone else’s if I saw them get a text reminder. And I’m not the only one that is going to miss my appointment because the office failed to send a reminder that would actually achieve its job: remind me.

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*All of these numbers assume that you are using a platform that:

offers an opt-OUT method instead of the commonly offered opt-IN
offers automated messaging for landlines as well as text and email
offers customizable messaging, with “natural voice” intros from your staff on landline messages