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Robert Elsenpeter is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Dental Products Report and Dental Lab Products. He is also the author of 18 technology books, including the award-winning Green IT: Reduce Your Information System's Environmental Impact While Adding to the Bottom Line. As such, he’s particularly interested in the technological side of dentistry.
Leveraging the practice's data for a better patient experience and more profit.
Civilization has historically been defined on the time’s technological and cultural innovation. For instance, the Agricultural Revolution of the 18th century led to better crop yields, diversity and greater support for livestock. The Industrial Revolution of the 1800s resulted because of a shift from an agrarian society to one based on manufacturing. And in the 21st century, we are in the midst of the Information Age. This era of technology and ubiquitous data is changing every industry, including dentistry.
But, given the prevalence of all this data, are doctors aware of what information they have and how it can be used?
“I don’t think so,” Chris Panebianco, chief marketing officer for Bankers Healthcare Group says. “I think they’re either not aware or they’re overwhelmed by the prospect of having to tackle it.”
Data in all shapes and sizes can be used strategically for competitive business advantage. “We recognize the industry is continuing to change and evolve, with increasing pressure on private practices and small groups,” says Brad Fromm, director of software marketing at Patterson Dental. “DSOs typically have more resources to help them measure the performance of a dental practice. Combine that with pressure from the insurance companies, and understanding their finances is more important than ever for smaller organizations. They’ve identified the challenges, so now the question becomes, ‘How do I analyze the data?’”
The prevailing reasoning seems to be bringing in more patients will result in more money. On paper, that seems logical; in practice however, Fromm observes the better strategy is to stop losing patients, and using one’s data is key to that goal. “Most dental offices believe bringing in more patients will solve everything,” he says. “And for some practices, they may be right. But for others, the real issue is patient retention. They’re losing patients and don’t understand why. By retaining the patients you have and getting them back on the schedule, that’s where the real opportunity to increase profits comes in.”
Fromm observes customer retention is a Business 101 lesson that applies just as well to dentistry. “It’s more cost-effective to retain a patient you already have than to try and acquire a new one,” Fromm says. “If your patient retention is strong, you don’t need a lot of new patients coming in the door; this is where data comes in.”
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Data is available
In the Information Age, all sorts of data is available, it just has to be utilized.“Practices have everything they need with patient data,” Panebianco says. “They have their demographics. They have their contact information, their birthdays, anniversaries and different milestones within their treatment history. Any kind of behavioral data- it’s all there. They have their industry knowledge, any potential issues or necessary treatments for the patient within certain brackets, historical and the evolution of treatment. They also have engagement and audience data. If patients have a website or social media channels they’re active in, they have access to those as well.”
That data can be used in any number of ways.
“We are able to help offices establish profitability, by procedure, by insurance company or down to the provider level,” Adam Chronister, CEO and founder of Pelican Point Advisors, a business management and analytics software says. “By combining business intelligence with artificial intelligence we assist the dental practice leaders with understanding, ‘What is the true cost of delivering a crown or performing a prophy, for example.’ Giving them a much deeper knowledge of which procedures and insurance companies are more profitable. You could look at all of the key performance indicators and show all kinds of things about production, but, outside of patient care, dental offices are like any other business: They’re for profit. Obviously, there’s some that are nonprofit, but the vast majority are profit-driven. So, if we don’t know where the flow of profitability is coming from, then we really don’t know what’s going on in our practice from a business point of view.”
Something can be gleaned from every piece of data. For instance, demographics can be used to market to practice.
You’re going to want this data so you can market to your patients, whether it’s acquisition or retention or keeping them engaged,” Panebianco says. “It’s a consumer field now for healthcare. I can’t drive down the street without seeing 25 dental practices that are offering something for free. People are price-sensitive with high-deductible plans, if it’s healthcare, insurance coverage for procedures or electives on the dental side. Practitioners could ask a series of questions they keep within the record and say, ‘Do you have any interest, potentially, in straightening your smile?’ ‘In whitening your smile?’ You track that information and then create a little bit of content or a newsletter, where you can use that to craft a personalized message. This keeps me engaged and informed that my dentist is at the top of the game, they’re offering new solutions, offering discounts and that they care about me.”
The hub of a dental practice’s information technology system is its practice management software. And while that piece of software is a treasure trove of patient data, it is not ideal for data analysis.
“Eaglesoft, Dentrix and other practice management systems capture and harness data,” Fromm says. “These systems excel with clinical and billing tools, yet many don’t have robust data analytics built-in. The data is housed in the practice management system and you can run all kinds of reports, yet it’s that interpretation of the data that analytics software tools deliver to take practice action to the next level and really enhances what the practice management software is doing.”
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Not the only data source
Practice management applications are not the only source of data. Information can also be gleaned from the practice’s website.
The DoctorLogic website marketing platform is a tool allowing medical practices to create a strong online presence and takes care of all the heavy lifting of keeping pace with web marketing trends.
“DoctorLogic is an award-winning software company headquartered in Plano, Texas,” Andre Riley, DoctorLogic partner and chief revenue officer says. “We focus on helping medical practices increase their patient acquisition with internet leads.
Our patent-pending software leverages practice content, such as before and after photo galleries, patient reviews and procedures to create up to 100 times more Google-friendly content within their website. More content equals more leads. Our software powers and manages their website, which is, obviously, the number one source where consumers go to learn more about the practice. But, most importantly, one of the key things we do is utilize the website and all the content to drive their online presence. Our entire goal is all about helping practices increase new patient volume.
When consumers go online searching for a provider, whatever the reason why they’re searching-problem, condition, toothache, cleaning or maybe they’re looking for a new provider based on their insurance – with any of those searches, our goal is to make sure the doctor shows up. One of the key things we are able to do is help increase the doctor’s online presence through all the keywords and optimization.”
It’s important, also, Riley says for a tool such as DoctorLogic to keep up with the digital marketing trends and changes.
“When it comes to marketing online, it’s a constant, ever-changing world.” Riley says. “Google is always making algorithm changes. And, of course, consumers are being more and more empowered with so much they’re able to do online before they even step foot into a practice. Our goal is to make sure doctors have control over what is being found about them, and, most importantly, that they’re being found.”
Pelident integrates with practice management software, such as Eaglesoft and Dentrix, and combines data with such business tools as QuickBooks desktop and online, Excel and Google, among others.
“We take analytics a step further,” Chronister says. “We look at four big areas: financial, clinical, marketing and HR. All four of those are really key to understanding the whole picture. However, most dentists, especially solo practitioners, are the primary income producer, meaning they have little time to focus on the business.
Therefore, data should be simple and actionable, not complicated and unusable. Our AI algorithms make interpreting data to create goals and plans easier than ever. Essentially, Pelident helps offices identify where they should be, how to get there, and then monitors their progress.”
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Promoting the practice
For as long as dentists have been in practice, they have understood the importance of marketing their practices. In this day and age, however, most realize an ad in the Yellow Pages, a mailer or a billboard on the highway just aren’t enough – they have to use the Internet to their advantage.
Practices can use all of their data to help promote their practice. “Marketing has changed,” Panebianco says. “Analytics and return on investment come into play. Am I a dental practitioner or a practice owner? I would ask myself, ‘What are the goals of my practice?’ Is this new service offering going to make me a lot of money? If so, I need to find out more about it.’ or ‘I’m losing patients to this and I really need to increase profits?’”
“All the decisions we make for the marketing strategy are all based upon analytics and data and behavior around that,” Riley adds. “We are able to understand what content is driving people to the website, what pages are actually driving conversions or what pages are actually driving people to visit only. Where are those people coming from? Whether it’s from social media, referral sites, direct or paid search. So we’re really helping the doctor understand what are the top things people are looking for, rather than just assuming, ‘this is our top procedure.’ Whereas, if you look of the data, it may show that actually, most people are searching for this type of procedure, and this is why you’re ranking really well.”
The results from the practice’s data mining and marketing efforts can help fine-tune overall goals.
“The first step is identifying my goals, knowing where my revenue is coming from, and what I’m proficient at,” Panebianco says. “There are a lot of ways to execute, but you are collecting data from your patients. You have their email address and their phone number. There are free texting platforms and free email providers, and there are the Mailchimps and the HubSpots of the world, that for a small practice-or even a mid-size or larger practices-are very affordable and easy to use. You don’t need someone, like myself, or someone who executes millions of emails a month. You can find an intern from a local college. You can find a freelancer. There’s a lot you can do. Whether it’s DIY or cost-effective subject matter experts, you take this information, compile it, upload the data you have, and then create the content around what your goals are. You can then put it – very simply – into a newsletter or an email alert.
You have to be consistent, too,” he continues. “If you’re only emailing once every six months to tell your patients, ‘Here is a reminder for your cleaning,’ that’s not enough. You have to mix it into a whole nurturing strategy. It might be a birthday card. It might be an anniversary of becoming our patient. It might be a monthly newsletter, or it could be based on procedures you’ve had or indicators you get, like Invisalign, to warm someone up to that.”
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Using the data
Between dentistry, business management and all the other things that go into running a practice, doctors wear a lot of hats. Do they really want something else to do? It depends on the doctor.
“I’ve met a lot of dentists that don’t want to have anything to do with it,” Panebianco observes. “They say, ‘I’m here to practice my craft. Running a practice and managing the people on my staff, worrying about accounts receivable, procedures, new technology-do not come at me with marketing.’ For those people, I recommend, if they have the budget, find an agency or someone who can come in and do this for you.”
Riley says making DoctorLogic a turnkey solution was critically important.
“Our entire goal is reducing the amount of effort the doctor has to put forth,” he says. “Their focus is on patients. We look at it as a partnership. We are experts at digital marketing, so it’s a turnkey solution where we handle all the heavy lifting.”
For the doctors who are interested in utilizing the data themselves, there are different marketing entry points, based on their level of skills and expertise.
“For the people who are interested in it, they can get a HubSpot or a Mailchimp account, and these are very, very easy,” Panebianco says. “And they’re free, unless you get over a certain threshold of contacts. You don’t have to know how to design an email. They’re already prepped for you, and you just put in the content. It’s very simple to do it yourself and that just gets you off the ground.”
For doctors who want to be more involved, more robust tools are available.
“Then you have people who want to do even more and that’s when you get into the Google Analytics on your website, very easily, and they’ll give you full reporting tools to understand who’s coming your site, and what they’re doing on your site,” Panebianco says. “You want to get people to your site to give them information about you, the services you provide and the leadership in certain areas. You have to manage the website and look at your analytics. What are people looking at? It sounds overwhelming, but it’s not as hard as it sounds. Some people actually like it.
“Then you can go into Google AdWords – geotargeting, you’re going to the social media areas and it’s very easy to do,” he continues. “There are great websites out there. There are tools like Canva, which anyone can use and upload, and you can do it with a very small budget.”
Dentists have a goldmine of data sitting in their practice’s servers. If they are willing to take the time and make the effort, their energies can be rewarded with a more lucrative practice and happier patients.