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“I don’t like to receive postcards from the dentist anymore. To me that seems a little bit outdated and unreliable,” Jeremy Sutherland, a patient of Alabama general dentist Scott MacRae, said. “I like the reminder text I get a couple hours before appointments because they’re a good last-minute reminder if the appointment has slipped my mind and I always get them because I always have my phone.”
Times have changed. Charles Canepa, an orthodontist in Rocky River, OH, said since he’s been using e-mails and texts, no-shows are down and it’s easier to find another patient to add to a newly opened time slot. Some patients include jokes in e-mails as they communicate more and more.
The efficiency of the electronic reminder is opening dialogue with patients. James Hamilton (no relation to this writer), product manager of a Mobile, AL, automated engagement communication company, described “communication engagement” as a tool to motivate patients to take action. An example of how the phenomenon works: “The two-way capacity of text and e-mail messaging dramatically increases customer satisfaction if an appointment needs to be rescheduled. The messages are sent in an instant, but each is experienced in a personal way.”
Melissa Mitchell, 46, is a practice administrator in St. Louis. At pediatric and orthodontic practices like hers, where the clientele are younger than 40, she estimated that 85 percent indicate a preference for receiving their appointment reminders via text message. She said the two-way communication of e-mail and texts lets the dental practice get people to commit instantly if an event such as a food drive is organized through the office. “Our patients who didn’t have appointments came by just to drop off food from our e-mailed request,” Ms. Mitchell said. “The involved patient is connected to the practice, and this meaningful exchange formed a relationship and referrals.”
“If it can keep one patient from being a no-show each week, outsourcing recare communications pays for itself,” Martin Jablow, a Woodbridge, N.J., general dentist, explained to me by phone. He was standing on the floor of the 2011 CDS Midwinter Meeting in Chicago, returning my call. He lectures on using technology to enhance dentistry. “My electronic recare communication cost is $200-$300 monthly. My staff would kill me if I had them go back to mailing postcards and calling everyone, but they know I won’t. Now, their job has changed. My staff is no longer chasing $100 prophys, they’re job is chasing $1,000 crowns.”
The key is to ask about patients’ preferences. Dr. Jablow’s office nicely asks each patient: “We need your e-mail address so that we can have reminders sent to you. Can you provide it to us?” Seventy-five percent say yes. For those who say they never check e-mail, they are asked if they would provide a cell phone number to receive text reminders. Sixty-five percent of patients who say no to e-mail say yes to texts. Patients who do not confirm receipt of e-mailed or texted reminders get an automated phone call in advance of their upcoming appointment.
Dr. Jablow wants to know the weaknesses and the strengths of his dental office. Every patient gets asked by e-survey about their appointment.
“We go over the survey results every two weeks unless there’s something needing attention,” he said. “For example, once we heard: ‘I am not greeted when I come to my appointments.’ That changed immediately.”
Dr. Jablow takes it further and asks the survey responder if they mind if he shares their comments online. “Anonymously or can we use your name?” after which, the compliment is fair game for all marketing venues.
Occasionally, a patient from a rural area with weak WiFi and no answering machine can’t get text, e-mail or phone messages. Ms. Mitchell’s practice is accommodating. “But he’ll have to wait for the postman to deliver that paper post card into that mailbox.”
A tradition of working for the dental profession. The Chicago Dental Society was organized in 1864 and incorporated in 1878. The objective of the Chicago Dental Society is to encourage the improvement of the health of the public, to promote the art and science of dentistry and to represent the intrest of the members of the profession and the public that it serves.
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