Is Your Dental Practice Delivering What Patients Expect?

Article

Why patient experience is increasingly important in practicing dentistry profitably, and how new technologies are making it easier to connect with patients — and more likely they’ll keep coming back for care.

Is Your Dental Practice Delivering What Patients Expect? Photo courtesy of svetazi/stock.adobe.com.

Is Your Dental Practice Delivering What Patients Expect? Photo courtesy of svetazi/stock.adobe.com.

Dental patients still want healthier smiles and honest dentistry, but recent shifts in patient expectations have added other factors that drive how patients are selecting their dentists.

What patients want has changed dramatically in the past several years especially following the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, patients are valuing the overall experience more than ever before, and a modern approach to technology is the expectation instead of a benefit.

As many as 28% of consumers switch dentists after having a poor experience such as unclear communication or a long wait time for a scheduled appointment during a visit.1 Digital experience matters too. According to one recent study, 40% of millennials believe the user friendliness of a dentist’s website is “very important” compared with 14% of baby boomers.2

While many dental practices are still recovering from 2020 COVID-related closures, cancellations, and patient-capacity challenges, now is a good time to consider how to proactively address new patient expectations and priorities.

Defining a Five-Star Patient Experience

What does a five-star experience look like for patients? The answer depends on who you ask.

Baby boomers tend to value established relationships, with studies showing higher rates of provider loyalty compared to younger generations.3 Younger patients, especially millennials and Gen Z, grew up with smartphones, value convenience, and expect dental practices to embrace high-quality technology. About 32% of Gen X consumers and 43% of millennial consumers trust tech companies for health and wellness services, compared to 20% of baby boomer consumers.4

There are still shared values among individuals of all ages that contribute to a positive patient experience, like shorter wait times. Price transparency is also important, considering an estimated 23% of Americans have no dental coverage, and the overall cost of healthcare delivery is rising.5 All patients want dental providers with strong interpersonal skills.

Boosting Their Experience Through Technology

New technologies and applications are making it easier to engage, connect, and keep patients coming back. Here are 3 easy, tech-facilitated ways dental practices can boost engagement and experience.

1.Migrate toward electronic scheduling. Nearly 60% of doctor’s appointments are now booked outside of office hours, and 80% of patients prefer a doctor who offers online scheduling, according to one recent study.6 Following the COVID-19 pandemic, patients have come to expect this level of digital convenience. This is one of the easiest ways to improve patient experience at the front end of the visit, quickly and cost-effectively.

2. Elevate online presence. An online presence isn’t just a website: It’s an active tool for engaging patients. The challenge is, while patients are often online, they are easily distracted. Furthermore, search and social media algorithms are constantly changing, making it even harder to reach them.

Consistency, quality, and volume help elevate your online presence. For example: Post advice, links to studies, and dental news regularly to social media channels a few times per week. Or, for locales where social media saturation poses a challenge, post a weekly blog on patient topics to the corporate website and integrate these posts into regular patient outreach via email. Tactics like these will improve a dentist’s relatability and credibility — establishing that critical relationship of trust. Diversifying mediums and topics will enable DSOs to reach patients of varying preferences.

3. Incorporate patient relationship management tools into practice. According to a recent survey, 20% of boomers, 44% of Generation Xers, and 42% of millennials said they are likely to switch practices if communication is inconvenient or ineffective.7 Leveraging a patient communication tool makes it easier for practices to stay in touch with patients in ways they prefer and can control. For example, it can offer text-based reminders for appointments, messaging applications in which patients can reach out with questions, and surveys that offer patients a chance to share ideas. Surveys also help practices keep tabs on positive and negative feedback, so they can follow up with patients who had a poor experience before they post a damaging review online.

Dental patients prioritize experience. By boosting online presence and utilizing advanced applications to enhance experience, practices and DSOs can stand out from local competitors whether patients want routine care, cosmetic procedures, or restorative care. While technology upgrades can seem daunting, they don’t have to be. By adopting the right technology to bring more convenience to patients, DSOs can meet rising expectations for the patient experience.

Eric Giesecke is the Chief Executive Officer of Planet DDS.

References
  1. Smith A. Survey: Why Do People Delay Dental Care? Survey on Delayed Dental Care | DentalInsurance.com. Accessed August 23, 2022. https://www.dentalinsurance.com/resources/dental-survey/
  2. Lincoln Financial Group Dental Study informs both dentists and employers of consumers' needs and wants. Lincoln Financial Group Newsroom. June 27, 2017. Accessed August 23, 2022. https://newsroom.lfg.com/lincoln-financial-group-dental-study-informs-both-dentists-and-employers-consumers-needs-and-wants.htm
  3. Hanauer DA, Zheng K, Singer DC, Gebremariam A, Davis MM. Public Awareness, Perception, and Use of Online Physician Rating Sites. JAMA. 2014;311(7):734–735. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.283194
  4. How can leaders make recent digital health gains last? Accenture. 2020. Accessed August 23, 2022. https://www.accenture.com/_acnmedia/PDF-130/Accenture-2020-Digital-Health-Consumer-Survey-US.pdf
  5. The Many Costs (Financial and Well-Being) of Poor Oral Health. College of Dentistry | University of Illinois Chicago. August 6, 2019. Accessed August 23, 2022. https://dentistry.uic.edu/news-stories/the-many-costs-financial-and-well-being-of-poor-oral-health/
  6. Assessing online scheduling as an emerging trend in scheduling physician appointments. HealthLeadersMedia. November 6, 2017. Accessed August 23, 2022. https://www.healthleadersmedia.com/innovation/assessing-online-scheduling-emerging-trend-scheduling-physician-appointments
  7. Lagasse J. Baby Boomers switch doctors at rate of 35 percent over past two years. Healthcare Finance News. June 20, 2017. Accessed August 23, 2022. https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/baby-boomers-switch-doctors-rate-35-percent-over-past-two-years

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