Patients Want to Schedule Their Own Appointments
The challenges currently facing modern dental practices are unprecedented. Rapidly rising overhead costs. Stringent new infection control requirements. Hiring and retaining qualified staff. Heightened patient anxiety regarding the safety of receiving needed treatment. No doubt many more items could be added to this list. Is it even possible to thrive in such a difficult business climate? Happily, the answer is an absolute “yes!”
In spite of all these and many other challenges, now is a wonderful time to own or work in a dental practice. Many reasons could be given, but for the sake of brevity, here’s an important one: Technology has, is, and will continue to change the way dental practices provide care, connect with patients, and manage every aspect of their business.
Both hardware and software are providing dentists with new capabilities in the breadth and quality of care they provide while also enabling them to manage their practices with greater insight and efficiency than ever before. What an exciting time to be a dentist!
One of the solutions now available is the ability to offer real-time online scheduling to patients using robust, innovative tools. Patients clearly prefer having the ability to schedule their own dental appointments vs. being required to contact their dentist to set an appointment.
In a recent survey, 77% indicated this as their preference. Significantly, 70% of patients also indicated they would be more likely to choose a provider that offers them the ability to schedule, change, and cancel their appointments online.
The Impact of Online Scheduling
Two large & thriving practices have recently enjoyed great success scheduling significant numbers of patients using Online Scheduling from Dental Intelligence, the leader in online appointment bookings. Merion Village Dental in Columbus, Ohio, and Affinity Dental Management, based in the Northeast, are both excellent examples of what can happen when patients are given the ability to schedule appointments whenever and wherever they wish.
According to Corey Brown, Director of Analytics & Communications at Merion Village Dental, “Using DI’s Bulk Scheduling feature, we recently sent out an invite via text message to 1,900 of our unscheduled hygiene patients which included a link they could click to schedule. Within a few hours, 36 of those patients had scheduled an appointment."
"Several weeks later we did the same thing with a list of 1,200 patients and had another 19 schedule a time to come in. Adding over 50 new scheduled appointments would have normally required hundreds of phone calls and multiple attempts over several weeks to reach them.”
Devon Elliott, Marketing Director at Affinity Management, shared a similar experience when they sent out a bulk scheduling text to patients from five of their forty locations. “It was very easy to set up and saved a significant amount of time vs. calling each of those patients. It was literally sorting & filtering patients and then pressing a button. Using this new solution helped us to schedule several patients that might not otherwise have been scheduled.”
Affinity also has seen the value of how efficient online scheduling can be as compared to other marketing solutions. According to Devon, adding the same or similar number of appointments to their schedule using other marketing efforts would require several days and hours from her and her team. Online scheduling campaigns can be built and sent to unscheduled patients in a matter of minutes.
The BIG difference between online scheduling & appointment requests
Some may wonder whether there is any difference between this method of real-time, online scheduling handled by the patient and an online appointment request system, which is when a patient submits an appointment request on their dentist’s website which must then be scheduled and confirmed with the patient by someone in the practice. Here’s the difference:
- Real-time online scheduling is just that: real-time. The patient visits their dentist’s website via a web browser or mobile device and schedules a day and time that works for them. That’s it. Their appointment is now set. No phone call or email required from the practice in order to confirm the time requested by the patient.
- Online appointment request. Using this method, the practice must still attempt to contact the patient and confirm the appointment date and time. This can often require multiple attempts, which is frustrating for both the patient and the practice. This method also locks up that appointment time until it is either confirmed or rejected. Most concerning of all, 85% of online appointment requests end up not getting scheduled!
At Merion Village, they see an average of 100-125 online appointments scheduled per month using Online Scheduling, and of these appointments, 40-50 are new patients! Data indicates that some practices have seen an increase in new patients of up to 70% when offering an online scheduling link on their website. That’s substantial new growth coming into the practice.
One of the features Devon most appreciates about Dental Intelligence is the robust reporting she has access to. “Everything is extremely user-friendly,” she shared. “I’m able to quickly get a bird’s-eye view of each practice without needing to login and logout of the software with a different username and password. We’re also discussing ways to use online scheduling to add unscheduled production in our practices by reaching out to patients we’ve identified as ones likely to schedule. This is especially needed right because many of our practices are dealing with post-pandemic staffing challenges.”
In a large practice like Merion Village (eight doctors, fifteen hygienists, etc.) being busy can often mask hidden opportunities for greater efficiency. When this practice began using DI in 2017, they assumed their hygiene reappointment % (i.e. those patients scheduling their next hygiene appointment while still in the practice) would be very high. In fact, it was only around 60%.
Armed with this startling metric, the leadership team at MVD collaborated with their hygiene team to increase their hygiene reappointment percentage from 60% to an average of 90%! This is the real power of data. When a practice understands where they really are, they can make better decisions and experience better outcomes. MVD also uses DI to identify patients with unscheduled treatment coming into the practice, which they then share with the doctor seeing these patients in order to prompt a conversation and doing so has led to an increase in their overall production.
As Devon at Affinity recounted, “Dental Intelligence and Online Scheduling tools have put our practices in a much better position for success. After being closed due to the pandemic for three months, we were able to scale quickly back to 90% or better much more quickly than had been expected. Having these tools to measure our progress and engage with our patients has made a measurable difference.”
For Merion Village Dental & Affinity Management, combining the power of online scheduling and easily accessible performance metrics has brought incredible value into their dental practices. Ultimately this means that more patients are receiving more of the treatment they need and in a timelier manner. Metrics certainly impact the bottom line of dental practices that use them well, but at the end of the day, what matters most is the health of each patient.