Staying in touch: using technology to strengthen relationships wth patients

Aug. 19, 2011
Good dentist-patient communication is essential to the health of a dental practice. Dr. Jeffrey B. Dalin tells you how to use the technology we have available today to strengthen your patient relationships, educate your patients, and encourage referrals.

By Jeffrey B. Dalin, DDS, FACD, FAGD, FICD

Good dentist-patient communication is essential to the health of a dental practice. If you want to educate your patients, encourage referrals, and build strong relationships, you need to keep in touch with them regularly. There are many different ways to do this.

Dental Economics readers know how much I enjoy the Internet. I have been contributing articles on this subject for a number of years. According to recent Pew Internet surveys, 77% of American adults use the Internet. In order of prevalence, here is a list of what people are doing online:

  1. Send or read email.
  2. Use a search engine to find information.
  3. Look for health/medical information.
  4. Look for information on a hobby or interest.
  5. Search for a map or driving directions.
  6. Check the weather.
  7. Look for information about a service or product you are thinking of buying.
  8. Get news.
  9. Go online for fun or to pass the time.
  10. Search for information about another person.
  11. Visit a government website.
  12. Buy a product.
  13. Make travel plans.
  14. Watch a video on a site such as YouTube.
  15. Use an online social networking site such as Facebook or LinkedIn.
  16. Look for “do-it-yourself” repair information.
  17. Do banking online.
  18. Look online for a job, and so on.

It is very useful to stay abreast of data from these surveys. As you can see by these tasks, there are numerous reasons for you to bring your dental practice online. One obvious way to do this is to build a high-quality practice website. But there are other ways to make the most of this explosion of Internet use.

Online patient communication is a new and exciting development in the dental field. Patient communication via e-mail and/or text messages is a dream come true for many practices. It's inexpensive, simple, immediate, interactive, and the results are easily measurable. But now in 2011, what started as a messaging system has involved into a patient engagement system on multiple levels: mobile phones, home phones, the web, review sites, social networking sites, and more. We are now able to reach and engage our patients in many different places.

Examples include Smile Reminder, Sesame Communications, Demandforce, Patient Activator from 1-800-Dentist, Practice Mojo from Smart Practice, and TeleVox.

These programs integrate with your existing practice-management software system and automatically gather patient information, such as email addresses, cellphone numbers, birth dates, and appointment schedules. The software then personalizes and delivers individual messages according to the specific delivery settings of your practice.

These messages can include welcome emails, appointment reminders, recall messages, maps with driving directions, e-surveys, e-newsletters, practice promotions, birthday and holiday greetings, post-treatment feedback requests, patient referral requests and thank you’s, financial reminders and options for online bill payments, requests for patient testimonials, expiring benefits and flex spending reminders, and last-minute messages to fill cancellations.

Things are now becoming much more sophisticated. Practice analytics can be done, including mapping out your existing patients. Some even can help establish a social media marketing presence by hooking you into sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Some can run direct mail marketing campaigns. Some can acquire patient reviews and post these on sites such as Google, Yahoo, City Search, RateADentist, Yelp, and more. Always check to make sure that a SSL (secure socket layer) connection is used along with some sort of encryption in order to keep data transmission safe and make sure the entire system is HIPAA compliant.

Many of these programs provide real-time reports based on patient feedback. These reports enable a practice to track performance over time. These systems do vary as to how far they will integrate with practice-management software.

How does this scenario sound to you? Your patient is celebrating his birthday with a fishing trip in Canada. All of a sudden, he receives a text message wishing him a happy birthday from his dentist. How do you think this will make him feel? It is all about patient communication and patient relationships. And we have the technology now to accomplish all of this and more!

Author bio
Jeffrey B. Dalin, DDS, FACD, FAGD, FICD, practices general dentistry in St. Louis. He is a cofounder of the Give Kids A Smile program. Contact Dr. Dalin at [email protected].