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Dr. John Flucke is in private practice in Lee’s Summit, Mo. He also serves as technology editor for Dental Products Report magazine and keeps an active blog filled with thoughts and tidbits on the world of technology at blog.denticle.com.
External marketing may work for some dental practices, but oftentimes the ROI isn't worth the effort. See how internal marketing can be a lot more effective - and much less expensive.
Over the time that I've been in practice, I've seen marketing take many shapes and forms. Local offices have sent out discount coupons (now very common in the Midwest), as well as high-end expensive magazine-type formats that feature the practice and are direct mailed to specific higher-end neighborhoods. Over the years I've heard of some offices getting a slight return on investment, but usually it's close to a break-even situation.
In my office, we don't do a great deal of external marketing. In fact, we do very little. Over the years my philosophy has been to treat your existing patients well and marketing will pretty much take care of itself. This isn't to say that I don't believe in external marketing. Depending on where you are located, it may well be the best way to attract new patients. However, here in the Midwest, the ROI just doesn't frequently justify the expense.
Another thing I love about internal marketing is that patients tend to socialize with and therefore refer people with personalities similar to theirs. In a nutshell that means that if a patient is conscientious, keeps their appointments and pays their bills, they tend to have friends that behave in the same manner. So, it behooves the practice to attract similar patient types to help the practice grow with minimal headaches. After all, it does you no good to attract lots of new patients if they don't keep their appointments and they don't pay their bills.
So for this exciting issue, let's take a look at some of the best ways I've found to use technology to enhance your internal marketing.
Continue to the next page to see the recommendations.
Be nice to your patients
While not a techie way to start, I do think it's the most appropriate way to start. Make sure everyone in your office gives the patient exemplary treatment. People are now used to being consumers of healthcare and expect to be treated in a certain manner. Go the extra mile to really set your office above the competition.
Available WiFi for patients
This is a great low-cost option that your patients will really enjoy, especially if the location of your office doesn't provide for the greatest cellular coverage.
A WiFi access point can be purchased for $50 or less to provide connectivity for your patients. However, this isn't something that can be taken lightly. I highly recommend having the install done by a professional IT person who understands that this is for patients only and must be totally separate from your office network to comply with HIPAA. They will know what to do because the last thing you need is someone rummaging around your network while waiting for a hygiene visit.
We installed a special WiFi for patients and made sure to isolate it in our office and people absolutely love it. We get comments on it on a regular basis and it's one of those little “niceties” that people are beginning to expert in every store they go into. Getting it installed and then putting a few signs advertising it will be a big hit.
Obviously, the WiFi suggestion is due to the fact that all of our patients are now carrying mobile devices and want access to them 24/7. That access is all well and good until a battery dies an untimely death.
To help combat this problem, we created an area we call the “recharging station” where patients can let their device get a much needed recharge while they relax and recharge during their time in the office.
You could create of these yourself or you can simply buy one. In my office I purchased two backup battery packs from Home Depot. Patients can plug their devices into these and since they are actually rechargeable battery packs, patients can carry them around the office. All you need are a few average charging cords to match the patient's device and you are good to go. I purchased two of the Rapid Power Plus 6000mAh Portable Chargers for about $35 apiece.
However, if you'd like to buy a preconfigured system that is ready to go right out of the box, you can purchase a Sharper Image Visual Charge 6 Port USB Charging Port for less than $20 at your local Sam's Club.
Your patients will really appreciate these amenities!
To some of my younger readers this probably strikes you as an incredibly obvious suggestion. In my defense, I had TimeWarner cable running all over my office. It worked as well as anything elseâ¦ or so I thought. In a way, I have to thank TimeWarner for this because when they raised my cable TV fees and wanted to force me to rewire my cable, add a cable box with every monitor and then charge me for the privilege of having all of these boxes. Oh and it was a per box fee. The bill would have automatically gone up several hundred dollars a month for exactly the same service. Needless to say, that didn't happen.
At a staff meeting I asked for brainstorming and solutions on our TV problem. One of the hygienists suggested NetFlix and we never looked back. We pay less than $15 per month for six simultaneous logins and the patients absolutely love it!
iPads and other tablets
In healthcare it is become more and more of a tablet-centric world. It is starting to make inroads in dentistry although not as fast as I'd like. However, there are systems that let patients check in on tablets. That really, really excites me. What I'm really waiting for is trotting around the office with a Microsoft surface or iPad with a keyboard.
This will, in some ways eliminate the need for patient monitors since you can just hand the patient a tablet.
Combine that technology with this like DEXPAD for DEXIS that is a free app that lets you view your entire DEXIS database on an iPad free of charge. Amazing!
Patient reminder services
Last but not least are patient reminder services such as Solutionreach. I have been using this service for over a year and have been amazed at what a targeted fun way it keeps my office engaged with our patients. Whether it's text messages, emails, phone calls or birthday greetings they are always making sure my office is running smoothly and cost efficiently. There are several services that do these types of things on the market that bear exploring, but at this time Solutionreach is my favorite.
The ideas above are just a few I thought up as I briefly outlined this article. I'd love to hear from you about some tech ideas you've used for internal marketing.