This article originally appeared in the Hawaii Dental Association Journal, Spring 2015 edition.
A recent Pew survey shows us that 90% of American adults reported having a cell phone. Of those, 81% said they use text and 60% say they use it for email. As you can imagine, those numbers are increasing each year.
I think we can all agree that people are more connected and communicating faster than ever.
Why is it so many dental practices are behind in making it fast and easy to communicate with their patients?
Why is communication so important?
Creating a great patient experience is a proven metric to retaining patients and creating growth through word of mouth. Recommendations can take the form of one-on-one or one-to-many referrals like those posted on review sites like Yelp.
Speaking of Yelp, a search for “Honolulu Dentists” resulted in hundreds of glowing reviews. A common theme with each of these reviews was a great patient experience.
A big part of the patient experience includes having secure, efficient and easy communication. Email can be used for confirming appointments to sending monthly newsletters as part of your marketing strategy. Playing phone tag is not only a frustrating customer service experience; it’s also an inefficient use of your staff ’s time.
If you read the negative Yelp reviews for dentists, you can easily see reviewers often wrote about frustrating phone experiences and mix-ups due to poor communication.
You want to be sure that if someone searches “Dental care near me” the results are positive.
What are some obstacles?
If it benefits your business and your patients, why are there still so many holdouts to using email to contact patients?
One reason is technology. It is a technical challenge to send secure, HIPAA compliant emails that your patients will read on their smart phones or tablets. HIPAA compliance is a huge concern—large fines for HIPAA violations can cripple any dental practice. To help practices overcome this hurdle, there are companies called email encryption providers that provide encrypted email services.
Be sure to keep in mind when selecting an email encryption provider that they also operate their business in a HIPAA-compliant fashion. As mandated by law, a Business Associate Agreement is required between a business associate and your practice if your patients’ protected health information (PHI) will be stored with them.
Give your patients what they want
In a study done in 2014 by Catalyst Healthcare Research, an astounding 93% of patients surveyed revealed they are likely to choose doctors who offer communication via e-mail. Simply being open to using seamless encryption to email patients can make your practice stand out in the crowd.
Cloud computing is becoming the standard
Cost savings can often be found by using HIPAA-compliant cloud-based solutions. There’s no hardware to buy, no software to install and security is oftentimes much better than the server/workstation you probably have sitting under your receptionist’s desk.
Technology is moving faster than ever and your patients are not only embracing it, they are demanding it. A dental practice that has the foresight to meaningfully engage with its patients on their terms (i.e., Smartphones) will indelibly stand out in the crowd.