An app to empower patients

March 21, 2012

Anyone who’s wanted get in touch with their dentist in the middle of the night has probably experienced the frustration of connecting-not with a person who can empathize with the pain and provide help-but with a voice recording that can’t respond to a question or set up an appointment for first thing in the morning. Most dentists, too, know about the costs associated with having patients who miss appointments or the time lost and frustration of playing phone tag with them.

Anyone who’s wanted get in touch with their dentist in the middle of the night has probably experienced the frustration of connecting-not with a person who can empathize with the pain and provide help-but with a voice recording that can’t respond to a question or set up an appointment for first thing in the morning.

Most dentists, too, know about the costs associated with having patients who miss appointments or the time lost and frustration of playing phone tag with them.

Dental Anywhere is a mobile phone application that is providing a solution to some of these problems that have caused patients, along with their providers, to feel plenty of headaches-along with those throbbing toothaches-over the years.

Patients can tap the application on an iPhone, Android smartphone or Blackberry to reach their dental office, no matter the time of day or their location.

“It lets patients book appointments, request information on dental emergency, get post-operative care instructions. It also has GPS (directions) to the office,” said CEO Michael Stein, who began offering the product a year ago.

Mobile access

A tap on the application allows users to choose from a menu of possible functions, such as setting up an appointment or getting first-aid instructions for a toothache.

In the meantime, the patient also can use the application to point out on a touch screen graphic exactly which tooth is hurting, and a text message goes to the dentist to provide them with information about what the patient is experiencing, and even comments if the patient chooses to include them. 

At the same time, the dental office can provide the patient with an appointment as soon as possible, and armed with information in advance, it allows the practice to more efficiently address the patient’s particular issue. It also can provide customized post-operative care instructions.

Office benefits

Melissa Forness, marketing manager for Smudde Dental, a practice with about 6,000 patients in Valencia, Calif., said they started using the app in May. She said it makes them more efficient because they can better prepare to treat the patient before they  arrive at the office.

“We can look back in the patient’s history to see if there has been any work on that particular tooth or if they had something that was diagnosed previously, but that they didn’t take care of,” she said. “We know better what we’re dealing with before they even come in.”

When the office receives a message via the phone app about an after-hours dental emergency, Forness said they have their on-call staffer respond to the patient immediately by phone or text.

Besides helping with emergency calls, the phone app also cuts down on missed appointments. The dental office can send reminders of appointments in advance. It can help a dentist build a practice by giving patients who use the app the ability to recommend their dentist to their friends, or if they are traveling out-of-town, to find a dentist who is recommended by their regular dentist.

Forness said Smudde includes information about the phone app and how to download and use it in the goody bags that they hand out to patients. She said use of smartphones is so prevalent today that most of her office’s patients are accustomed to using apps and like the convenience of them.

Designed from experience

While the phone app was in development, Stein collected information on ways in which dentists need to become more efficient. A good source for this information was his father, Alan Stein, a dentist in Northridge, Calif.

“He helped us perfect the product,” said Stein of his father’s contribution.

Stein hopes the app, which a dentist must purchase and provide to their patients, will help dentists better run their practices and help patients who want to run their lives more efficiently.

He believes patients who can get in touch with their dentists immediately are less likely to miss appointments or to let their dental care take a back seat to other things going on in their lives.

“It allows them to act at the time of need rather than letting it fall by the wayside,” he said.