You only get one first impression with a new patient. What message are you sending when they visit your office for their first appointment? The small details in your intake process have an undeniable impact on setting the tone for that patient relationship going forward.
Many dental offices struggle with user experience during patient intake. It can be difficult to find the balance between processes that make life easier for your staff and processes that create a better experience for your patients. For instance, how often does paperwork get lost, or does your schedule fall behind because patients show up 1 minute before their appointment time and still have 15 minutes of paperwork to fill out?
If you are looking to start new patients on the right foot, it’s critical to streamline your intake systems in ways that benefit both staff and patients. A pleasant and efficient patient intake process helps build trust and confidence in the quality of services and care you are offering.
Top Priorities for Improving Patient Experience
Where should you focus your efforts if you want to improve the new patient experience? These three priorities have an undeniable impact on the first impressions you set with each new patient:
- Efficiency: Use fast, effective systems to collect patient information. Use automation to streamline the process, ensuring efficiency for both the new patient and office staff.
- Modern: It’s time to get rid of the printed paperwork. If you are still handing out clipboards with patient forms, then you need to update your system. Digitize it to streamline the intake process and reduce busywork in your office.
- Personal Touch: One fear of using technology for patient intake is losing personal touch with the patient. Find the balance between leveraging technology while still making it a personalized experience. Technology can improve personalization since the office staff will have more time back in their day to focus on enriching interactions with patients.
6 Steps to Optimize New Patient Experience
Strong patient relationships and long-term loyalty begins with a stellar first-time experience. Follow these proven tips if you are looking for ways to improve the new patient experience in your dental office:
1. “What to Expect” Landing Page
A lot of people already have anxiety about going to the dentist, so it's helpful to eliminate as many unknowns as possible. Create a landing page for your website that walks new patients through exactly what they can expect leading up to and during their first appointment. Providing basic logistical information, such as where to park when they arrive or how and when they will receive appointment reminders, goes a long way in putting patients at ease. The goal is to spell out all necessary details to eliminate any surprises or potential friction between when the patient books the appointment and the time they are actually sitting in the chair.
2. Online Scheduling
Many people don’t want to pick up the phone to call for an appointment. When scheduling over the phone, the back and forth of offering up potential times can often result in patients double booking themselves or accepting an appointment time they can't make, not to mention the number of people who don't think about scheduling until after business hours and then get sent to voicemail. Digital scheduling tools allow your patients to view your real-time availability and check it against their own schedules before booking, ensuring they select an appointment time they can commit to and effectively increasing show-rates for new patients. Your patients are already booking flights, ordering dinner, refilling prescriptions, and buying groceries online – meet them where they are.
3. Go Paperless
There are countless benefits to going paperless for patient forms and consents. Not only does it provide cost-savings and free up physical space in your office (goodbye, filing cabinets!), it helps increase compliance and makes paperwork significantly easier for your patients. Digital forms allow patients to complete their paperwork at their convenience from their phone, tablet, or computer prior to arriving for their appointment, ensuring your staff stays on schedule and waiting rooms aren't backed up with patients scrambling to fill out forms. Digital forms also introduce smart functionality that can collapse questions or auto-populate additional questions based on patients' answers, so they won't have to fill out sections that aren't relevant to them. Digital forms are quicker to complete on the patient end, and they instantly file automatically into your practice management software, meaning always-up-to-date patient charts without any data entry or extra clicks for your front office staff.
Learn more about the impact digital forms can have on your practice
4. Virtual Check-In
Crowded waiting rooms are a thing of the past. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many patients prefer to wait in the comfort of their own vehicle. Seamlessly check patients in remotely by sending them a text or email link to click when they arrive, and text or call to let them know when you're ready to see them. Virtual check-in helps you decrease waiting room traffic and keep things running on schedule so your providers can give every patient the time and attention that they expect.
5. Optimize Treatment Plans
Often, new patients require extra treatment to get caught up after having been without a dentist or regular exams for a time. Talking to a new patient about treatment can be tricky, especially if they have a backlog of dental care needed or have dental anxiety – but having the right tools helps you cater your treatment presentation to each patient to ensure they understand their needs and feel confident in saying yes to treatment. Digital treatment planning tools allow you to customize treatment presentation to highlight what's most important, include intraoral photos or infographics to help with patient understanding, and incorporate payment options as part of the conversation early on so that patients know their options. Treatment presentation should be transparent, educational, and understandable in order to build trust with new patients.
6. Digital Payment Options
It’s a hassle for office staff to print invoices and mail letters to remind patients about overdue balances, and by that same token, most patients don't love waiting days or weeks to get their bill in the mail only to have to send back a check or call in to make a payment. Make collections easier for everyone involved with digital payment requests. Send your patients a text or email with a link to securely view their statement and pay their balance right from their phone or computer. Your patients will appreciate the quicker turnaround time and easy payment options, and your staff will appreciate not having to stamp and seal hundreds of envelopes every month. This is the last patient touch-point in the appointment cycle and a final chance to remind your new patient that your practice prioritizes their experience and convenience.
Turn First Impressions into Long-Term Retention
Efficient. Modern. Personal. These are characteristics new patients are beginning to look for and expect from their dental office. Use these tips to create a seamless experience for new patients, and you’ll not only make a great first impression, but this positive patient experience will create a strong foundation for lifelong patient loyalty.