Most likely you are among the millions that rely on text messaging, Twitter, email, and Facebook as your preferred methods of routinely communicating with family and friends. What you may not realize though is that your patients are using these same tools just as much as you may be for both personal and professional communication.|
While in the past practices have relied on phone and fax, today’s modern dental offices are integrating instant messaging and social media tools into their everyday patient communication systems. And in the process they are streamlining practice efficiencies, reducing no-shows, curbing cancellations, filling open appointments, and enhancing doctor/patient relationships.|
The numbers paint a convincing picture.
And it doesn’t stop there. We’ve seen an explosion in text messaging. According to a Nielson Mobile survey released in Sept. 2008, U.S. mobile subscribers sent and received on average 357 text messages per month, compared with making and receiving 204 phone calls a month. The number of messages sent and received today has increased 450% in the last two years alone. It’s clear that Americans have jumped onto the text messaging bandwagon.
What about older patients? According to the New York Times boomers are turning to social media in droves. More than 60% of boomers are avid consumers of social media like blogs, forums, podcasts and online videos. That’s up from roughly 40% a year ago.
The U.S. Census Bureau reports that 57% of 50- to 64-year-olds have children ages 18-24. With those kids away at college or living in different cities, these parents are texting to stay in touch. Therefore, many older adults are completely comfortable with this mode of communication.
What’s more, those responding to text messages do so far more quickly than they respond to voicemail. According to a survey conducted by Opinion Research Corp. (ORC), a text is far more likely to elicit a quicker response than voicemail. Adults 30 and older are twice as likely to respond within minutes to a text message as compared to a voice message.
If your practice has large numbers of working professionals, it’s virtually guaranteed that the vast majority prefer communicating using email or text messaging. Moreover, most working professionals keep their calendars on their computers, iPhones, and Blackberries. They’ll know immediately if they can keep that appointment and so can your practice.
Saving the schedule from no-shows and last minute cancellations offers one of the best arguments for making the most of today’s communication methods. Everyone wants patients in the chair at the appointed hour; after all, that translates into more money for the practice.
This is where patient communication services come in. If you are considering a patient communication package for your practice that uses text messaging and email, look for a few key characteristics. The package should be able to synchronize with practice management software to identify upcoming appointments as well as patients who have not been in the office for more than 12 months. In addition, you should be able to select when you want the email and text message reminders to be sent to patients; perhaps you would like reminders sent two weeks as well as two days before an appointment.
In addition, you should look for companies that keep you in the loop daily as to which patients have responded and confirmed and which patients may need additional follow-up from your office. The system also should allow patients to opt out if they would prefer to no longer receive the emails or text messages.
Not only can these patient/practice communication systems address much needed recall issues, they can be production life savers when last minute cancellations threaten to send production into a tailspin and staff scrambling to fill punch bowl size gaps in the schedule. Look for a communication system that allows you to instantaneously contact specific patients on an “As Soon as Possible” list via email or text message. And that hole can be filled in a matter of minutes.
Explore the full range of electronic communication services available to streamline your day-to-day operations and start collecting email addresses and cell phone numbers from patients today.
Sally McKenzie is CEO of McKenzie Management, a national dental practice management company. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, www.mckenziemgmt.com or 1.877.777.6151.