Automated Patient Communication Systems Are All The Rage: How To Find The Right One

For good reason, there’s been a recent explosion in the number of dental practices that are using automated patient communication solutions.

In short, they save administration time and help boost revenue by sending customized patient messages in a batch via email, text or voicemail.

Common messages include appointment notifications, appointment confirmation requests and outstanding treatment notices. Patients can respond from their smartphone, tablet or computer and the system automatically updates their e-calendars – fast and easy.

This blog provides a summary of the benefits of using an Automated Patient Communication solution and explains what factors to consider when choosing one.

Patient Communication Benefits Summary

  1. Patient Convenience: Patients can quickly and easily respond to appointment notices by email or text     
  2. Reduced Costs: Automated patient reminders and confirmations save significant administrative time
  3.  Reduced No-Shows: Patients that receive electronic reminders are more likely to keep appointments
  4. Increased Booking Rates: Patients that receive outstanding treatment notices are more likely to schedule appointments.
  5. Patient Engagement: Automated communication keeps patients actively involved in their oral health.

Choosing a Patient Communication Solution

While some dental practice management systems (DPMS) have this type of functionality built within the software, there are also third-party solution vendors who provide dedicated patient communication applications that integrate, to varying degrees, with a number of DPMS. The following table summarizes the advantages and disadvantages both options:

Third Party Solution
These applications are dedicated to automated communication only and are marketed to a variety of customer service organizations including dental practices. Since they are not part of the dental practice management software, they must extract the data from the software’s database.

Practice Management Software Solution
Automated patient communication capability is either built-in to the software or offered as a fully integrated optional module. Since both applications are provided by the same vendor the integration and data sharing between the two is secure and potentially unlimited.
PROSPROS
Third Party Solution
– Typically feature rich
– Vendor depth of experience – specialize in automated patient communications
– Wide range of systems and feature choices







Practice Management Software Solution
– Tighter Integration between the DPMS software database and the communication features
– Database updates in real time maintaining data integrity
– Single entry of data
– Features remain reliable and consistent with all DPMS upgrades
– One vendor support
– Often included at no or minimal cost
– Ability to offer Patient Portals (see more below)
CONSCONS
Third Party Solution
– Typically more costly
– Not dental practice specific
– Limited integration – only as good as the data it can extract from the DPMS system
– Database updates are not always in real time
– May require additional patient data entry
– Integrations can break as DPMS versions change
Practice Management Software Solution
– May lack advanced features
– Not the DPMS vendor’s primary product/focus






Patient Portals

Some DPMS solutions also offer a patient portal – a secure, online website that gives patients 24-hour access to specific information and an instrument for information exchange (as determined by the dental practice).

Portals enable patients to carry out tasks that previously had to be completed either by telephone or during an in-person visit. This may include appointment requests, healthcare information updates and responses to surveys and review requests. The key is that Portals give dental practices the platform and the power to increase patient engagement making them an essential feature for most offices.

Portal Benefits

  • Increased Administrative Efficiency: Improves                        communication between your patients and dental team.
  • Patient Convenience: Patients can request and respond when and how they want.
  • Enhanced Patient Care: Patients and providers can view up-to-date patient information.
  • Efficient Marketing Tool: Provides an effective source of patient referrals and testimonials.

Note:  Third-party vendors have little or no ability to provide comprehensive patient portals as they have limited access to the DPMS database and no control over additional data fields that may be required to provide the functionality and information exchange desired.

Conclusion  

Automated Patient Communication and Patient Portals that are developed by DPMS vendors are specifically designed for use with their own practice management software. Integration integrity is ensured and maintained with uniform DPMS/Automated Patient Communication upgrades. There are no inherent limits for data exchange and data is never out of date since it is updated in real time. Additionally, there is the convenience of single vendor support for all functions.

With a third-party solution, the DPMS database is potentially at risk of corruption every time the third-party application accesses it to obtain the patient/appointment information that it needs to function. On the other hand, third-party solutions typically offer a wider range of features and are the only option if your DPMS vendor does not provide automated patient communication functionality.

In summary, if your DPMS vendor offers patient communication features that meet your needs then it is likely to be a more stable and secure solution making it preferred when compared to any third-party offering.

4 Back to School Tips to Help Dental Students Succeed This Semester

The following guest post is from Tyler Willis, founder of Tyler Willis Content Consulting. An accomplished writer and editor, Tyler engages with clients from many industries including higher education, technology and healthcare to produce professional quality content that appears in magazines, online news and blogs.

For students preparing for a career in the dental industry, September is a exciting month. As that delicious nip of fall enters the air, the new semester brings new classes, new challenges, and new opportunities for growth. 

Studying to become a dental professional can be incredibly rewarding, but I don’t think anyone who has been through the process would say that it is easy. Dental programs are designed to be extremely demanding, but there are ways to make things easier for yourself.

Here are four tips that can help you head into this school year prepared for success and focused on mastering the skills you need.

1. Plan Ahead

The best way to succeed in dentistry school is to plan so that you are prepared for the rigours of the coming months instead of finding yourself panicking as the end of the semester closes in. Pace yourself, make sure you understand the material and adopt a proactive attitude to learning.

Here are a few areas you can focus on to ensure that you succeed in dentistry school:

  • Manage your time – Mastering the skill of time management is crucial to keeping on top of your assignments and studies while also balancing your personal life and other responsibilities. Keep a calendar noting when all of your assignments are due and the time and location for every quiz, exam, personal appointment, etc. so that you arrive on time.
  • Set some time aside for yourself – This often-overlooked tip is key. Don’t drop all of your social engagements or hobbies just because you’re studying. Make time for yourself to avoid burnout.
  • Always be professional – You are about to embark on a career in patient care, and the sooner you learn how to conduct yourself in a professional manner, the better your prospects will look. Dentistry school is also the perfect time to start building networking connections. Trust me, they will last your entire career.
  • Keep your body in shape – This is an easy one to let slide, especially during exam crunch time. But it’s important to get a good night’s sleep and keep fit. Keeping your body healthy will keep your mind sharp and help you succeed.

This video that shares more good advice for first year students in dental programs.

2. Gain As Much Knowledge As Possible

Dentistry students get a lot of information thrown at them and, when you’re just starting out, it can be tempting to wonder when you’ll actually need to know all this.

The reality is that since you will be running or participating in a business in addition to being a clinician, you don’t just need to know about your own role. You will also need to co-ordinate with team members that have a variety of different skills. As I mentioned in a previous blog, succeeding in dentistry often means adopting new approaches, mastering new software solutions and using cross training techniques to get the most from yourself and your team. Soaking up as much knowledge as you can while in dentistry school, even if it doesn’t seem immediately applicable to your desired role, will stand you in good stead once you are in the workplace.

3. Prepare for a Career in the Real World

Dentistry has changed a lot in the past twenty years, and being part of a dental team involves understanding a lot more than just teeth. In addition to covering standard tools of the trade like scalers, molds and tofflemires, your instructors will talk about practice management and people skills.  

Take advantage of these education opportunities to learn more about industry-specific topics like the role dental software plays in the modern clinic. The specific features of the software will give you a good indication of what is important to track and monitor to run a successful practice so that you are better prepared when you graduate. Remember, successful dental professionals wear a lot of different hats and maintaining an approach to your studies that is focused on preparing yourself for the actual industry will stand you in good stead when you are interviewing for your first job in the field.

4. Don’t Neglect Your Own Health

Let’s face it: if higher education is stressful, advanced study in the healthcare sciences is doubly so. And one of the unfortunate by-products of all this stress is that students often don’t take adequate care of themselves, even as they are learning about the importance of regular check-ups for public health.

When studying to be a dental professional, make sure to regularly book appointments with your own healthcare providers so you can keep healthy throughout the school year. Remember, you can’t take care of others if you are neglecting your own health! You’ll also get a better idea of what approach you will adopt when dealing with patients based on your own experience as a patient.

Many of the healthcare professionals I talk to look back on their university or college years with a sense of fondness for the good times – and a general feeling of relief that they made the grade.

Whether you love the student life or can’t wait to start practicing your profession, it is important to get the most out of your school experience. After all, these years can set you up for a long and successful career in the world of dentistry!

Looking To Improve Your Quality of Service? Review Management Software Can Help

What price would you put on attaining a great reputation?

If you operate a dental clinic, your reputation in the industry is one of the most important aspects of your business. A good reputation will attract new patients and help you keep the patients you have – but it will also do a lot more than that. 

Earlier this summer I wrote about the value of reputation management software, and review management software in particular, as a way of increasing the growth and profitability of your practice. This week, I want to share some of the less obvious ways in which strong online reviews can make your dental clinic shine.

Yes, using review management software to curate your online reputation will help you build your patient base but, as you’ll see below, that’s not all it can do for you.

Good Reviews Attract Good Staff

Every dental clinic relies on a strong team of receptionists, assistants, managers, hygienists, and dentists in order to function well. Building a good team isn’t easy, and attracting talent can be a challenge, especially in competitive urban markets. Attaining as many positive online reviews for your clinic as possible will make it much easier for you to find passionate, dedicated staff. 

Most job seekers will read up on online to find out as much as they can about their potential future boss before they ever send in an application. If you don’t have much of an online presence, or if your online presence contains a lot of negative reviews, this can make attracting the right people even harder.

Conversely, if your clinic has received a lot of positive, public feedback online from genuine patients then potential employees are far more likely to consider working for you.

Reviews are a way for potential employees to discover a number of things about your practice. Here are some of the things patients may comment about in reviews:

  • Your Team – A strong team with the right work ethic will attract better candidates
  • Service – Potential hires want to know whether a practice is trying to improve people’s lives by providing great service and by making them feel welcomed and appreciated
  • Workspace – The physical space of a clinic is as important to employees as it is to patients and a comfortable, well-kept office with modern equipment will attract both
  • Office Culture – A positive office environment is an attractive quality for potential hires

Negative Reviews Give Opportunities To Show You Care

No one likes logging onto the review management component of their dental software and seeing that someone has left a negative comment criticizing their dental clinic.

But wouldn’t you prefer to know if your patients are having a bad experience, rather than remaining unaware of the impression your clinic is leaving in patients’ minds?

They say that ignorance is bliss but in the world of healthcare it is actually dangerous. Knowing how your patients feel about the service you offer is absolutely essential if you want to give them the best care possible.

For this reason, you should embrace negative reviews as an opportunity for growth. After all, you can’t get better if you don’t have reliable feedback about where you are missing the mark. 

One of the reasons why dental reputation management software is so helpful is because it alerts you to every review posted about your clinic, and gives you a variety of action options, putting you in the driver’s seat when it comes to dealing with disgruntled patients. 

According to some experts, when healthcare professionals respond to negative reviews, patient satisfaction can double, turning a bad visit into a good experience. So, make sure your review management software is set up so that you can respond to them as quickly as possible!

Tapping into Patient Reviews Helps You Fine-Tune Your Practice  

Earlier this year, I wrote about some of the ways you can improve the culture of your practice. Everyone working in dentistry should be striving to give patients a better experience and a better level of care. One of the best ways to find out where you can be doing better is by regularly reading what people have to say about you.

For example, if most of your patients’ reviews indicate their appreciation for your practice’s implementation of appointment management software, e.g. for convenient  patient confirmation or re-booking of appointments online, it indicates that your approach to booking is working. It also suggests that your patients are pretty plugged in which may lead you to adopt new digital tools to make your clinic even more accessible.

Remember, even when patients are happy with your service there are still ways that it can be improved!

Online reviews have rapidly become one of the most important factors in how patients decide on their health care options but this isn’t the only reason to take online reputation management seriously. Investing in review management software can also help you attract talented employees, respond to negative criticism in real time, and fine-tune the service that your dental practice offers. 

Purchasing new Dental Software? What you should know before signing on the dotted line!

A few months ago I wrote a blog article about what to look for in dental software to get the best fit for your practice. However, once you identify the software you prefer for your office, it is critical to ensure you have considered all factors before making a commitment to the vendor.

In this blog we will look at important selection criteria that often gets overlooked during the evaluation process – only to be discovered (and regretted) after an agreement has been signed.

Purchase Model/Overall Cost

Cost is often the main concern of dentists when comparing practice management solutions but it can be challenging to make an objective cost comparison.

  • Each vendor may offer a different mix of components that comprise their standard configuration
  • Any additional features you desire will likely only be available an additional cost – either from the vendor or from a third party
  • Some parts of the total solution may be offered in the form of perpetual software licenses for an upfront, one-time, payment
  • Some other features may only be available by paying a monthly subscription

The simplest way to deal with this complexity is to list the main features you require then calculate and compare each system’s upfront and monthly costs.

In addition to the core practice management software being offered, here are examples of specific features and services that may be available either bundled or separately:

  • Clinical applications (Charting, Clinical notes)
  • Patient Communication/Appointment Reminders/Patient Portal
  • Imaging software/Third Party Imaging Software Integrations
  • Patient Kiosk
  • Advanced Reporting
  • Payment Card Processing
  • Reputation Management
  • Remote Back-up services
  • Productivity Tool Integrations (Accounting, Office 365, Payroll, HR Management)
  • Software Maintenance (updates)
  • Software support (telephone, knowledge base, email, chat)
  • Training (on-site, classroom, web-based, telephone) 

You should also consider the after-tax cost of your investment. Upfront payments for software and hardware are treated as capital costs that can be depreciated at different rates. Alternatively, these assets can be leased and lease payments are treated as an expense against generated income. Monthly rental/subscription payments are treated similarly for determining after tax income. It’s best to check with your accountant to determine the optimum financing mix that minimizes your taxes and preserves cash flow based on your practice profile.   

Data Conversion

If you currently use practice management software, chances are you will want to transfer as much practice data over as possible to the new system. However, if you have many years of data, it makes sense to limit the carryover of transactions to the last two to three years so your new system starts with a relatively “clean” database.

Worth noting here is that you should be able to run your old software (and database) simultaneously with your new software during the early stages of the new implementation. This arrangement equips you to look up historical transactions as required.

Now let’s look at the different levels of practice data conversion to be considered.

Basic
-Patient Demographics including recall dates and account balances
Intermediate
-Patient Demographics including recall dates and account balances
-Appointments
-Financial transactions
-Procedure history
-Insurance information for eClaims
Full
-Patient Demographics including recall dates and account balances
-Appointments
-Financial transactions
-Procedure history
-Insurance information for eClaims
-Clinical charts and diagnostic notes
-Outstanding treatment plans
-Detailed insurance information/coverage

Your chosen level of data conversion will be influenced by the number of patients and records you decide to transfer. For example, you may not wish to pay for appointment information transfer if the number of future appointments is small and quick to enter manually.

Beware of companies who promise detailed conversions at no or low cost  as an enticement. Regardless of the amount of automation used in the conversion process, each data conversion is unique and takes substantial time for planning and testing. Low cost conversions will likely lead to poor results and cost you much more if you need to correct corrupt data or enter missing information.

Keep in mind that the The differences from one software to another can lead to data that doesn’t map accurately into ABELDent. Some systems are based on ancient, obscure or proprietary differences in dental software databases means not every data field from one system will have a direct match in another system. Furthermore, some software systems are based on obscure, proprietary technology that make it difficult to extract data. In addition, some vendors encrypt your data making it impossible to move it to another system without obtaining the decryption key (for which they may charge a substantial fee).

After you’ve chosen the level of data conversion that’s right for your dental practice, the easiest way to ensure a satisfactory conversion is to request a sample and check it for data accuracy. Ask the new vendor for a data conversion agreement that specifies the files and fields that will be carried over and where they link to in the new system. You will also need to schedule a time for the new vendor to receive your most current backup prior to going live so that the data transferred over is as up to date as possible.    

Implementation/Configuration:

When you are ready to make a commitment to a new dental software vendor, it is important to have an implementation plan in place so that the transition goes as smoothly as possible. Ask your new vendor what their implementation steps are and how any issues you may have experienced in the past would be resolved this time around.

Choose a reputable hardware/IT vendor and make sure they consult with the dental software vendor so that your new dental software system gets configured to specification. Skimping on quality hardware or using inexperienced technologists can cost you a lot more down the road in lost productivity if the system and/or the support prove unreliable.

Schedule several training sessions prior to your “live” date so that staff have an opportunity to get familiar with all the basic functions of the software. It is best to shut the office down during training so staff can give their full attention instead of dealing with interruptions. Once up and running, don’t be satisfied using just the basics. Switching from your current system implies you are looking for something more so book advanced training to help your team fully realize the  software’s capabilities and increase your return on investment!