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Bob Levoy is the author of seven books, including 201 Secrets of a High Performance Dental Practice and 222 Secrets of Hiring, Managing, and Retaining Great Employees in Healthcare Practices. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are a few of the many ways dentists can make it easier for patients to deal with their practices:
1) Utilize Electronic Health Records. One of the many benfits of using EHRs is that dentists and patients are both able to save a lot of time. Patient records, medical histories, allergy and medication alerts, stored treatment plans, and other important information can be quickly retrieved, enabling doctors and team members to focus more on the patient.
“Our patients often comment how efficient and high-tech we appear, and this translates into having increased confidence in us as their dental care provide,” says Mary Beth Swift, operational manager for Grandview Center for Dentistry in Edina, Minn. “Our technology also frees us to take the time to be highly personable with our patients and develop strong relationships.”
2) Provide an easy-to-use patient portal. This will enable patients to schedule, reschedule, or, if necessary, cancel appointments; access and print health history forms, which can be filled out prior to coming to the office; view and update their contact, insurance, and other personal information; make secure online payments; and get routine questions answered.
To make these interactions even more convenient, give patients the freedom to connect to your practice from their smartphones via a mobile app.
Recommendation: Make sure your Web site is HIPAA-compliant and as secure as possible.
3) Have a user-friendly Web site. As simple as this sounds, consider the comments of David Siegel, expert in Web site design and author of Creating Killer Web Sites. “Out there on the wild, wild Web, most sites are train wrecks that have already happened,” says Siegel. Most companies, he adds, think that cool technology and hip special effects will make their sites engaging â without ever understanding their viewers’ needs, interests, or navigating skills.
“Does your site have too many buttons?” he asks. “Too many layers? Too many words? Too many choices? Busy wallpaper-like design in the background? Hard to read typefaces? Too many typefaces? Too many links? Information overload? My message on design is this â¦ keep it simple.”
4) Don’t underestimate the importance of your front desk staff. “A great front-desk staff communicates with our patients to satisfy their needs and solve their problems,” says Dr. Howard Rice, a pediatrician and president of Town and Country Pediatrics, a 16-physician practice with three offices in Chicago. “They sometimes are shock absorbers or play the role of an educator, translator, and psychologist to the needs of patients.” This is as true in a dental practice as it is in pediatrics â¦ and perhaps more so.
5) Offer third-party financing. In this economy, many patients are reluctant to put more debt on their credit cards and often don’t have money on hand to pay the out-of-pocket costs of procedures not covered by their insurance.
Allowing patients to utilize third-party financing enables them to spread out their payments (interest-free, in some cases), so it’s not a huge strain on their budgets.
6) Increase phone availability. Many practices have telephone access only from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and are “closed” for lunch. This makes no sense if early-morning callers are working and don’t want, or are unable, to call from work. Others may prefer to call you during their lunch break or at the end of their workday (perhaps after 5 p.m.). Callers who are prospective new patients (with any of the above preferences) are not likely to call back.
Recommendation: Consider having an early “first in” receptionist who comes in before the doctor and other team members arrive to handle those early morning calls for appointments. Consider also, a lunchtime receptionist for mid-day calls and a designated “last out” receptionist for those late-day calls.
7) Have convenient office hours. 9 to 5 office hours are simply not convenient for many of today’s time-pressured patients. Some have long commutes or start work early or work late and would like an office with early morning and/or evening appointments. Dentists who have these appointment times (even for one or two mornings or nights a week) tell me they’re booked solid well in advance.
The great jazz pianist and composer Fats Waller knew about being easy to do business with. “Find out what people want, and how they want it, and then give it to them just that way,” he said. He was spot on.