The digital dental practice: Patient engagement platforms

October 15, 2014

The Internet has become a powerful global game changer, impacting how businesses interact with their market and transact their services. Dentistry has not been immune to the profound effect the digital world has had on how local enterprises market and grow their businesses.

The Internet has become a powerful global game changer, impacting how businesses interact with their market and transact their services. Dentistry has not been immune to the profound effect the digital world has had on how local enterprises market and grow their businesses.

This national research study was designed to evaluate the adoption of digital technology in patient engagement and practice marketing areas. In addition, the study aimed to understand what service providers were leading the transition to the digital age of dentistry. In the area of patient engagement platforms, this study focused on better understanding what value patient engagement platforms had for dental practices and whether these investments converted into positive ROI in terms of practice growth, operational efficiency and patient experience.

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Digital patient engagement platforms (sometimes identified as ‘Patient Login’ systems) have reached the early majority stage, with 50.55% of study participants stating they use an automated patient appointment reminder system; the leading functionality of patient engagement platforms. The highest percentage of users (24%) leveraged the automated appointment reminders included in their practice management software. The remainder of practices used a specialized patient engagement platform provider, with Dental Sesame having the highest brand recognition at 71.65% of the leading providers.

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The leading value associated with the automated appointment reminder functionality reported by practices was a reduction in no-shows. 74.25% of respondents noted that a reduction in no-shows was an important benefit of their patient engagement system. Furthermore, a significant 73.89% of participants in the study stated that this functionality actually reduced no-shows. This finding confirmed a previously published research study by Sesame Communications.

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This study included 1,707,664 appointments scheduled in 64 dental practices over a five-year period. The study found that practices moving to an automated appointment reminder system experienced a 19.58% reduction in no-show rates resulting, on average, in a year-over-year production increase of $31,460.
The second significant benefit of an automated appointment reminder system is patient preference. The study showed patients overwhelmingly prefer automated reminders, as an astounding 79.5% of patients prefer text or email appointment reminders over phone calls.

Patient engagement systems have helped reduce no-shows, bring in new patients, allow practices to provide a higher level of patient care, and more.

The third most important benefit of a patient engagement system cited by 72.37% of research participants was improvement in staff efficiency. Managing the practice schedule is the most critical role of the administrative team, as this ultimately determines the production the practice will achieve. Patient confirmation often is a time consuming undertaking. In a busy and hectic practice the administrative team is not always able to reach and confirm all patients, which may negatively impact production and ultimately practice profitability, as collections are derivatives of the production the practice achieves. Implementing an automated appointment reminder system not only drives the revenue and patient satisfaction parameters noted above, it also allows the administrative team to focus on other tasks which enhance the patient experience and drive significantly more value for the practice.

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The fourth most significant benefit of a patient engagement system cited by research participants was improvement in new patient acquisition. A significant 70.74% of dental professionals noted it as an important benefit. Patient engagement portals help practices attract new patients by remaining engaged with existing patients and providing gentle and consistent reminders to refer friends and family to the practice. The software functionality often makes referring a prospective patient to the practice a quick and easy process encouraging more referrals.

 

The fifth most significant benefit of a patient engagement system cited by research participants was patient retention, which is achieved by providing the highest level of customer care to patients. This finding is not surprising as dentists dedicate great attention and care to managing the patient experience and creating an environment in which patients feel comfortable and confident to proceed with treatment recommendation. Online patient engagement systems effectively optimize patient retention as well as recare and treatment activation.

Another key part of this study evaluated the actual features of patient engagement systems, and the value placed on them by dental professionals. A key learning from this analysis which begs further discussion is the finding that 71.39% of participants stated an important benefit of a patient engagement system is the ability for patients to access the information from any mobile device. Considering the fact that over the next year experts expect mobile devices to exceed computers in terms of the device used to access the Internet, this point is critical. Interestingly, not all dental patient engagement platforms presently provide this advanced functionality.

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Final thoughts
Patient engagement systems effectively address a strong patient preference to communicate digitally and transact with the practice online. Significantly, providing this patient benefit actually results in significant gains for the practice in terms of production, efficiency and new patient growth.

In the November issue of Dental Products Report, we look at survey results in the area of digital marketing.

This article originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of Dental Products Report. For articles on other practice management tips, click here to subscribe to DPR's newsletter bit.ly/1oJNUaR.