For patients used to using cellphones, social media, and messaging apps, connections are everything. Today’s consumers demand high-touch customer relationships where they feel seen and cared for, and they don’t just expect this level of service from their online retailers, they expect it from their medical and dental professionals as well. Building strong relationships with patients can help you spend less time focused on getting new faces in the door and more time changing lives. But unlike Amazon, the average practice doesn’t have the resources for constant, high-touch patient interactions in and out of the office. For the last 15 years, Jim Higgins of Solutionreach has created the tools dental and medical practices need to build high-quality relationships with their patients. He took the time to answer some of the PDA team’s questions about how technology can improve our service to patients and our overall production.
So much dental marketing advice focuses on attracting new patients. Why is it also important to engage existing patients? Why do some unhappy patients fall through the cracks?
New patients help grow a practice, but research shows it costs five times as much money to attract a new patient than it does to keep a current one. So it’s cost-effective for dentists to connect with their existing patients to make sure they stay loyal to the practice. Studies also show almost half of millennial patients are likely to switch dentists in the next two years because they don’t feel connected to their dentist. If a dentist is still trying to manually communicate with each patient, some will fall through the cracks. There just isn’t enough time in a day to connect with each individual. That’s why automated communication can make such a difference. If emails and texts are set to go out to every patient at a specific time, practices can make sure nobody falls through the cracks.
How has the ubiquity of smartphones and social media apps changed how patients expect to interact with their dentists?
Almost everybody has a cell phone, and 91 percent of people keep their phone within arm’s reach—people are always tied to their phones! But most people don’t use their phones to make calls, they use them to text. Three-quarters of people believe a text is more convenient than a phone call. Patients are already using text to communicate with their friends and family, and that’s how they want to communicate with their dentist too. At the top of patients’ ideal wish list for a dentist is greater connectivity and the convenience of texting. From appointment reminders to alerts and follow-up care, patients want to hear from their dentist through text.
Why do you think that so many in our field have been slow to adapt to these changes and to connect with their patients by leveraging new technologies?
There are a few reasons why dentists might be hesitant to connect with their patients through technology. The first is their patient base. Dentists who have an older patient base tend to think their patients aren’t very tech-savvy and don’t keep up with new technology. But in reality, across all generations, 79 percent of patients want to receive text messages from their dentist, especially about their appointments.
The second reason dentists are slow to use technology is their concern for HIPAA compliance. They have an obligation to protect the privacy of their patients, and sometimes incorporating new technology scares them. But there are ways to use both automated and real-time electronic communication and still be compliant. The right vendor can help walk practices through those steps and tools.
Texting is convenient and appeals to patients, but what about HIPAA? What pitfalls do texting dentists need to be aware of?
HIPAA compliance is something dental practices need to be aware of in any communication with their patients. Dentists should be aware of the limitations of what they can and cannot send patients through text messages. They should also have a process in place to ensure they always have the proper consent before discussing any PHI with patients. In addition, the TCPA regulates what can be sent to people via text. There is an exemption for healthcare related messages, but the guidelines are very specific so practices should be sure they understand and follow those guidelines. They should consult an attorney who specializes in healthcare compliance if they have questions.
Your platform integrates a lot of patient data to make scheduling, marketing, engagement and payment processes more intuitive. Are you concerned about data breaches? What steps have you taken to secure patient data?
Dentists may be concerned that cloud-based platforms are more vulnerable to internet-based attacks, but—with the proper security measures in place—cloud-based solutions carry no more threat of data breach than on-site data storage.
In fact, a quality, cloud-based software can be more secure because it is more closely monitored; small businesses like dental practices can’t typically afford to staff team members responsible for managing the security of their server. The encrypted data stored within the Solutionreach platform is constantly monitored by experts who are committed to keeping the data safe.
What are the best uses of social media for reaching patients? What have you seen succeed? What epic failures have you seen?
Maintaining an active social media presence can be a great way to get your dental practice noticed online. Over half of the results on the first page of a search for a dentist will be social media sites. It’s important for dentists to make sure they set up a page for their practice, and then actively use it. Facebook and Google+ are great sites to collect patient reviews, offer online scheduling, and engage with patients.
Most practices run into problems with social media when they set up a page and then never return to it.
Your company offers a huge array of tools to help dentists build and maintain successful relationships with their patients. If a provider wanted to start by implementing just one feature, which would you suggest they try first?
Appointment reminders have the potential to make the biggest impact for a dental practice. A text or an email reminding a patient of their appointment is an easy way to keep no-shows to a minimum. And the best part is that after the initial set up, these can all be automated. So the staff doesn’t have to spend hours every day making phone calls trying to reach their patients. Every patient gets a reminder for every appointment.
Don’t the patients who use your platforms expect swift responses? How do your clients handle after-hours and weekend texts and comments?
With texting, everybody expects an immediate response. Similar to a recorded message a patient hears when they call a practice after hours, an auto-response can be set up for incoming text messages. The practice writes a message stating the times they are open and when a patient can expect to hear from them, and sets designated times for the auto-response to be sent.
Anybody who sends a text message during those times will receive the automated response and know their dentist received their text and will get in touch with them. And for those dentists who never stop working, they can also access text messages through the cloud. So it doesn’t matter if the dentist is on the beach or at the mall, as long as they have an internet connection they can receive and respond to texts sent to their practice.
Do you have a favorite client success story you’d like to share?
One of our favorite success stories is from Advanced Dental. They already had patient relationship management software, but it just wasn’t cutting it for them. The staff was still making hundreds of phone calls and writing emails every day. Not only was it taking up time, but it was also taking the focus away from the patients who were in the office for their appointments.
They saw Solutionreach and realized what they were missing. By automating many of their phone calls and emails, the staff can spend more time with their patients and give them their full attention. Advanced Dental has also seen huge results from automating their recall messages. In the first few weeks of using Solutionreach, they had 40 recare appointments scheduled. According to the CEO, Advanced Dental recoups their investment in Solutionreach several times every day.
Jim Higgins is the founder and chief executive officer of Solutionreach. Higgins launched the company in 2000 to help support practices with the common, yet costly problem of patient no-shows. Since then, Higgins has innovated and guided the direction of the Solutionreach technology to meet all the patient relationship management needs of a modern dental practice. Follow him @higgs77.