To say that 2020 threw the world a giant curve ball would be one of the understatements of the decade. For some, it felt as though the earth had stopped revolving on its axis and it has never quite begun turning the same way. Government mandates closing offices, PPE requirement that increased costs and created uniformed barriers from our patients, and auxiliary personnel leaving the profession permanently leaving voids in our office that effected our proficiency have created a bit of havoc in many dental offices.
We heard the phrase “the new normal” and some of us were not quite sure what that meant, exactly. Was it ever going to be normal? Will it ever be normal again? What can a dental practice do to recover, restore, and revive following the effects of the Pandemic and the aftershocks that continue to persist?
This article will explore the opportunities to help your office thrive in the days ahead of post-pandemic.
Do Your Homework
A good first step to poise your practice to thrive in the coming months is taking a good look at your practice data through software analytics like Dental Intel™, Jarvis™ or Dentametrix™. You can review your patient base and recall return rate so you know how to plan bringing patients back into the office who may have fallen out of their routine schedule due to the Pandemic. How many appointments did you lose during shutdown? Where are those patients now? What is your scheduling capacity to get them back into the office? Data analysis will help you identify the clinical needs of your patients, the potential productivity increases and help in planning patient contact and marketing strategies.
A practice analytics tool that comprises data will save valuable time that can be allocated to other areas of your business.
You can help your patients feel connected, safe, and informed by proactively communicating with them.
It is important to understand how today’s consumer (your patients) has changed since COVID-19 became part of their lives. Practice owners who understand how a patient wants to be reached, and what they want to hear will attract and retain new clients and solidify relationships with long-standing patients. Communication efficiency is also a key.
Patients, especially now, may seek out practices that provide safe, effective, and efficient care before, during and between their visits. According to research1 fifty percent of consumers consider convenience an important factor in decision making when it comes to their dentistry.
Your practice can create a convenient experience for patients by utilizing practice innovations that consumers have come to expect in other areas of their lives. This will help you elevate your patient experience during the pandemic and position your practice for long term success.
Consider the following:
Paperless intake forms that are completed online at the convenience of the patient and automatically integrated into their records. Text to pay, touchless payments and online bill pay. From online shopping to online banking, patients are used to paying for products and services at their convenience. Billing software allows touchless payment processing twenty-four hours a day.
Online scheduling. The easier you make it for your patients to schedule an appointment, the better chance you have of them coming in. The benefits include the conveniences for the patient to have access to limited appointments and appointment times while the Team may not be available, or the office is closed. Think of Open Table, United Airlines and Expedia – where consumers can book dinner with friends, flights, and hotel reservations with the ease of sitting in their office or on the couch. There is good scheduling software that will integrate with your PMS (Practice Management Software) like Local Med™, ZocDoc™ and Scheduling Widget™.
Consider a multi-touch approach to patient communications and learn your patients’ preferences. Whether it be telephone, email, texting, or all the above; cater it to the consumer.
Reactivate Patients by developing a campaign to reach them through innovative methods such as SlyText (see example) or email. Be creative. Polish your communication skills; it’s not “just a recall”.
Personalize the message to improve results.
The “Zoom Boom”
While the pandemic may have temporarily reduced the number of active patients, it may also be offering offices an opportunity to provide more cosmetic treatment. According to the Ontario Academy of General Dentistry2, the Pandemic brought out consumers seeking enhancement dentistry. There were 10 million daily Zoom users in December, according to the onsite publication, the Guardian. That number grew to 200 million by March. Seeing their own faces online – for some viewers inspired them to seek facial enhancements. Businesswire.com reports the Botox market will grow by $2.6 billion, because of conducting business online. NBC news online states that dentists have seen a rise in cosmetic dentistry. There has been a 47 percent increase in teeth whitening this year and a similar climb in teeth straightening according to the company SmileDirectClub.
If a dental practice offers treatments such as clear aligners, teeth whitening, veneers and other cosmetic treatments. It is an excellent time to leverage the current increased interest in these services. If a practice wants to take advantage of the increased motivation for improving smiles inspired by the current videoconferencing trend, now is the time to create a marketing campaign on social media and an in-office “re-framing” of discussing these types of services to patients of record.
Recorded testimonials posted online from patients who have had these treatments done would be beneficial as well as the use of before and after pictures.
Teledentistry is primarily used for triaging patients, but the potential extends beyond conducting consultations and appointments for follow-up recommendations. Patients will appreciate the convenience of discussing dental conditions from the comfort and safety of their own space. This service to patients was important during the pandemic and will continue to be an attractive feature for patients and practice alike.
Virtual Consultations to explore the possibilities of smile enhancement are becoming popular and powerful. With a video-powered widget added to your website you can generate more interest in your practice and the cosmetic and esthetic services you offer3. Prospective patients receive a personalized microsite built just for them and emergency cases and post-op follow ups with live consults can be created for desktop and mobile applications. Patients take photos of their smile or emergency for you to review. They learn detailed information about your practice and your services. The leads generated by the software is managed on a dashboard for the practice to organize and respond appropriately. This technology has the potential of generating high value leads 24/7 for your practice.
Smile simulations and preview software enables patients to see their potential and gets patients more interested in cosmetic dentistry, including veneers, dental implants, orthodontics, teeth whitening and more. This visual aid allows the patients to instantly preview the potential changes that can be made to their smile and dental appearance to increase their understanding and acceptance.
With the shortage of experience dental personnel, dental practices are seeking outsourcing solutions for administrative and support functions. Companies such as CallForce, and Support DDS handle rollover calls, reaching out to unscheduled patients after hours and insurance verifications. They relieve the burden of the business team when the office is short-staffed.
Dental Insurance billing and claims research can also be outsourced to reliable, experienced experts. This frees up in-office personnel to focus on patient engagement and committing patients to care.
Oftentimes, outsourcing these functions are less costly to the practice since there are no employment taxes, benefits and other personnel related expenses associated with their service. Also, these experts are already trained in their related area – saving the practice time and resources.
This may be an excellent solution for those offices suffering from a staff shortage and a decline in viable candidates to fill open positions in their offices because of the current pandemic.
Critical to the recovery and revitalization of the practice through the Pandemic is Team Communication. Creating an understanding of new trends in dentistry and the potential impact on the practice is a key to practice success during and following the pandemic. Being receptive to innovative technology that will differentiate the practice and increase patient satisfaction is important for effective integration.
Since the Dental Team is often the first (and last) point of contact with patients, they must be comfortable having conversations with patients about:
- New Safety Protocols and Government Mandate Compliance
- New Methods of online communication and payment options
- Potential Treatment Possibilities
- Follow Up on Treatment Plan
Since there is no “normal” following the Pandemic; patient conversations that were usual and customary in the past are not as effective in today’s dental practice. With barriers obstructing our body language and distorting our tone of voice, words and gestures must be more intentional.
This is a specific area where change is most significant and may have the greatest impact.
Be certain the office has spent time reviewing the importance of patient conversations and learn how to increase Team effectiveness in this area.
Update Your Website
According to PEW Research4, eighty percent of Internet Users have searched online for healthcare providers. It might be time to revisit and revitalize the online presence of the practice and make the most of your SEO (Search Engine Optimization).
Be certain your website is responsive. Whether a user accesses their laptop, mobile phone or tablet, the site should appear attractive, engaging, informative, easy to navigate and quick to load. According to Google, nearly 40 percent of users search by smartphone. So, now, more than ever, your site must be responsive if you want to stay competitive.
Experts state that action content on your site will increase patient interest and engagement nearly eighty-five percent. Rather than just telling your patients about your practice, show patients what makes your office exceptional through videos of your office, patient testimonials and telling you’re “story” about your practice.
Bolster your online presence with social media. Beyond your website, social media provides additional opportunities for reaching new patients and existing patients and shaping their perception of your practice. Educational videos, content about how you are protecting your patients and keeping them safe during COVID may play well on social media.
As COVID 19 shut down retail stores, business offices, and schools, dental offices were no exception. It was and still is a challenging time. In 2020, nearly 9 in 10 dentists experienced increased operating costs and reduced revenue. But dental visits in 2021 exceeded the number of pre-pandemic appointments according to Guardian Life Insurance. Practice growth potential is promising.
New safety protocols have been adopted and will probably remain for some time. Digital communications options have increased. Teledentistry, virtual consults and online scheduling has created an industry shift. Adoption of new communication technology has the potential to improve and increase patient care. Patient demand for efficiency,
effectiveness and to experience innovation is driving change.
About the Author
Debra has presented workshops for numerous study groups and organizations including the ADA, Hinman, Chicago MidWinter Dental Society, Swedish Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry and the British Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. Her articles have appeared in leading dental publications in the US, Canada and England. Debra is a founding member and served three terms as President of the National Academy of Dental Management Consultants. She is a member and serves on the board of the American Academy of Dental Practice Administration and Speaking Consulting Network. Debra is also on the board of the American Dental Association’s Dental Practice Management Advisory Board and is the Coordinator for Speaking Consulting Network’s Spotlight on Speaking and Speaker Showcase programs.