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The evolution of patient communication


The way practices communicate with patients is changing as technology advances .

Does anything evolve faster than technology? It seems like no matter when you purchase a new gadget, whether it’s a smartphone or software, there’s already a newer version available. Take computers; they used to be so large and take up so much space that a single computer required its own separate room in an office. 

Fortunately, times have changed and technology has improved. Now we have powerful computers small enough to fit in our pockets – or even in a pair of eyeglasses. And while the tech world continues to evolve at an astoundingly rapid pace, many updates today are done for the sake of increasing interactivity, portability and convenience.

Take dental patient-communication software, which serves as a great example as in just a few short years, the modern methods that many dental practices use to communicate with patients today are practically unrecognizable from those in vogue only a decade ago.

Let’s take a look at how far dental patient-communication technology has come, and the latest tools to make building patient relationships faster and easier than ever.

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First generation

The pre-automation world was dominated by one-on-one communication – handwritten postcard reminders and outbound phone call reminders. This was a method in place for decades and allowed dentists to add a personal touch to their patient communication. 

However, as technology became more readily available, the traditional 1:1 model grew increasingly labor intensive as staff spent hours needlessly hand-addressing postcards, licking stamps and leaving messages on voicemail. Those manual tasks left little time for the front desk team to complete other important duties, and with the advent of email and cell phones, postcards sent to the home and messages left on a landline voice mail were increasingly ineffective and often went unnoticed.  

Second generation

The next iteration of patient communication comes courtesy of practice management software (PMS). Programs like those offered from industry leaders like Eaglesoft and Dentrix sparked the beginning of automated patient communication, with systems like e-Central enabling dental teams to send email (and later, text message) reminders to patients. 

This was the first key step in helping the front desk to work more efficiently, automating patient communications processes via the practice’s existing practice management software. 

Third generation

Highly customizable patient communication software later became available through a host of companies such as Sesame Communications, Lighthouse 360 and Demand Force. These programs integrate with, but remain independent from, the PMS, allowing dentists to improve workflow and production in the office while fostering better patient relationships.

With these tools, dental teams were suddenly able to customize automated emails with the practice’s branding/identity, and capabilities expanded beyond appointment reminders to include birthday greetings, e-newsletters, post-appointment surveys and expiring benefits updates. These tools also enable dental teams to create and schedule messages ahead of time, and integrate social media profiles to interact with patients online on a more conversational level.

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Fourth generation

Today, dentists have the latest patient communications technology at their fingertips. Many of the second and third generation players have expanded their offerings, and dental teams are no longer limited to canned or templated electronic messages. 

In 2017, a dentist, hygienist, office manager or receptionist doesn’t need to be in the office (or even on a desktop computer) to professionally communicate with patients in real time. In fact, today, with modern patient communication tools that use VOIP (voice over internet protocol), dentists and teams can quickly and easily communicate with patients in real time from the convenience of their smartphones, in a secure environment, whether in the office or on the go. 

Innovative new companies like Weave Communications and Rhinogram allow dentists to get back to the truly one-on-one, hyper-personalized communication that is reminiscent of the days of old, but uses the latest in front office technology. These tools enable patients to interact directly with the dentist’s office in ways they prefer – confirming and rescheduling appointments via text message, paying their bills online and sharing in the conversation on social media. 

Patient conversations have certainly come full circle. It’s fascinating (and almost ironic) to see technology helping dental practices get back to the kind of one-to-one communication that the profession has relied on for most of its history. Today, personalized means communicating with patients in the way that they want to be communicated with so that the practice’s communications are valued, relatable and easy to respond to. 

For dentists who want to build lasting relationships and to create loyal and happy patients, one thing is for sure: staying connected with patients in a secure environment that positions the practice as not only caring but also tech-savvy is easier than ever.  

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