How 2021 Has Shaped Dentistry Practices and Relationships with Dental Software
It’s an understatement to say that the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way healthcare interacts with patients. Social distancing, PPE, and limited patient intake became necessary priorities. Not only this, but in dentistry practices, reliance on dental software has changed as well. Telehealth, virtual waiting rooms, and wellness surveys are increasingly part of the norm. Even if Covid restrictions have been lifted in your town, city, state, or province, these changes can still be felt.
Of course, 2021 was not the first year of the pandemic. This was, in some senses, the year we knew what to expect.
So what did 2021 mean for dentistry practices and their relationship with dental software? Let’s look back!
Dental Software in the New Normal
2020 was the year of adjustment and learning. In 2020, dentistry practices began to rely more heavily on initiatives that dental software made possible or more user-friendly. These included:
- Remote ways of delivering instructions pre- and post-procedure, via text or email
- Virtual waiting rooms that allow for fewer patients in an office at one time
- Where possible, telehealth appointments became an option for appointments where patient and dentist didn’t need to be face-to-face
- Wellness surveys sometimes sent both before and after appointments
- User-friendly methods to cancel and/or reschedule appointments due to Covid or another illness scare
This is not an exhaustive list, as many office managers and dentists know. Dentistry, like other healthcare sectors, had to find ways to continue serving patients.
Of course, for many dentistry practices, there was a loss of patients. There was also a loss of the necessary word-of-mouth that is integral to promoting your practice. Practices had to find ways of digitizing some of these business-centered practices.
Learning from 2020 meant strategizing for 2021, leveraging the lessons learned from the first year of the pandemic.
For example, it’s no understatement to say that digital marketing has become a priority for dentists in 2021. A Vyne Dental survey from January 2021 revealed that 38% of dental practices identified marketing as the action that would make their practice more profitable or productive. Platform Pop found that, across healthcare sectors, providers who didn’t address online reputation are 52% less likely to feel that they are making good revenue. Dental software is integral in maintaining an online reputation. Automating requests for online reviews leverages patient feedback into advocacy for a dental practice.
What 2021 has shown is that dentistry practices are willing to meet the challenges strategically, planning for that has been significantly changed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
How Patient Communication Software Can Help
How dentistry practices’ staff and their patients experience dental software is what we focus on here at Intiveo. Specifically, our focus is patient communication software. Over the year, our blog has focused on what matters to dentists and staff about dental software and patient communication software in 2021. Grappling with the fast-paced world that we live in, in addition to the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, has meant strategizing about what dental software is essential to manage your practice.
As 2021 got started, dentistry practices understood that a dental tech stack was required for the office. But what did that tech stack need to look like?
Recommendations on a good tech stack did and still do vary. But, the essential recommendations boiled down to finding electronic solutions for:
- Dental imaging
- Claims services
- Appointment reminders
- Pre- and post-procedure messaging
- And more
Of course, knowing what is right for your office depends on a lot of different factors, such as:
- The size and scope of your practice. Are you a single practice or multi-location? Are you a general practitioner or a specialty such as OMS or pediatric?
- Whether you want an onsite-server or a cloud-based system – acknowledging the increasing trend toward cloud-based systems in dental software
- Choosing between a subscription or perpetual license. Do you want to pay up-front or month-to-month?
There have been a lot of changes in dental software in the last 10 to 20 years – let alone in the last two. It is true that the importance of dental software in effective practice management truly cannot be overstated.
Maintaining engagement with patients – at a distance – has been one of the key roles of dentistry software in 2021. One of the key pieces of patient engagement is appointment reminders.
Let’s see how.
Appointment Reminders: A Key Factor of Patient Engagement
Patient engagement is a key facet of maintaining a dental practice. As we’ve discussed, this became harder in 2020, with fewer patients coming in for dental work. In planning for 2021, many practices chose to utilize dental software to make appointment reminders and messaging. Not only did this help facilitate staying connected remotely, but it also offered time savings on manual tasks such as calling each patient to remind them of their appointment.
The importance of appointment reminders was particularly underscored by the need to retain patients. Many practices lost patients in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic. Utilizing appointment reminders was just one way to increase patient retention. What we know is that 42% of patients say they would be more engaged if they were contacted between visits. So, when communication barriers hindered us in the pandemic, each piece of communication had to count. Good communication with patients includes setting clear expectations around:
- Preparedness for appointments
- Billing expectations
- At-home maintenance of your patients’ dental health
- Time and directions to appointments
- And more
Appointment reminders also improve the patient experience. They indicate to the patient that you care about the experience they have at your practice. You provide them with the information they need to have a successful appointment. This was also crucial in 2021. The time that your patients spent at your practice was of the essence since appointment time was limited.
Practice profitability – a key concern in 2021 – also increases with the use of appointment reminders. When you engage with patients and send them the appropriate messaging cadence of appointment reminders, they bring revenue into your practice. Which in turn converts your patients into advocates for your practice!
This brings us to another important focus in 2021: reputation management.
The Importance of Online Reviews
As we’ve discussed, finding a way to manage reputation digitally became paramount in 2021. Hand-in-hand with this was another top priority: bringing in new patients.
Dental software, specifically patient communication software, is integral to practice management. The BrightLocal Consumer Review Survey of 2020 revealed that 84% of people now trust an online review to the same extent that they would trust a personal recommendation. This statistic is impressive on its own. But the same survey revealed something else: that 91% of people 91% of consumers read online reviews. Another survey, this time by the Master Patient Experience Survey (which is quoted here), revealed another significant statistic. 71% of new patients use online reviews when they are choosing a new practice.
This is an important piece of information to leverage when trying to attract new patients. Reviews tend to highlight what is distinct about your practice, which sets you apart from the competition.
It is worthwhile to leverage online reviews in marketing for your practice. Utilizing dental software in reputation management makes this process that much easier. We see this in several ways, including:
- Automating requests for online reviews right after an appointment, so that you ask the patient right when they are fresh from their experience with your practice
- Aggregating your reviews in one place. This allows you to keep tabs on the feedback you’re receiving from your patients in a user-friendly way.
- Embedding survey results on your website. This allows you to showcase positive reviews on your website.
Investing in patient communication software allows practices to request and organize online reviews easily. Automating these processes also contributes to time saved for your staff!
Online Forms: Increasing Efficiency for Your Practice
As creators of patient communication software, Intiveo has had a front-row seat to a lot of changes in dentistry in 2021. Namely, we’ve noted that where there were temporary fixes in 2020, more permanent solutions moved to the forefront. Among the consistent trends we saw were:
- Online forms
- Touchless payment
- Digital dentistry
Online forms are a particularly good example. As patients came into practices less frequently, and as wellness surveys became more frequent, a long-term solution for online forms became a necessity.
To contextualize how we approached this, it’s important to have a sense of the value of online forms. Forms are a key method for gathering information at your practice, including gathering information for:
- Wellness screening
- Vital statistics
- Appointment confirmations
- Patient intake information
- Feedback about your practice
- And more
Online forms go a long way to making your practice more efficient. Many patients come to appointments with paperwork that’s been filled out incorrectly. Or, they arrive late and delay the appointment by taking time to fill out paperwork. Then your staff has to manually input the information into your database. Online forms save time. Your patients can fill out the paperwork before they come. Both your staff and your patients save time. And, the information is stored in one place automatically, completely accessible to your staff.
With this context in mind, Intiveo did not rush to create a forms add-on for our software. 2021 was the year of long-term solutions, and Intiveo Forms is a great example of this. It is a user-friendly add-on that integrates seamlessly with existing Intiveo software. We focused on issues facing practices now, in 2021, and planned for the long-term new normal.
This planning and creating meant that these solutions work not just in 2021 – they will continue working as we navigate new challenges.
What We Saw at Intiveo
At Intiveo, we have seen the changes in dentistry and dental software reflected in our products. As we continue to be a low-touch society, Intiveo has seen a trend of streamlining every process as much as possible.
This has not just been seen in the development of the Intiveo Forms add-on. As we’ve seen here, social reviews and online reputation became a priority for dentistry practices. We developed a Social Reviews add-on to meet these needs.
As patient communication software sought to meet the needs of practices, what we also saw was that different practices had different types of communication needs. General dentistry has different needs than a specialty practice. We saw this specifically in the creation of Intiveo OMS. The need to automate messaging is common in every practice – but not every practice requires the same messaging cadence. In creating Intiveo OMS, we saw directly how needing to convey specific pre- and post-operation instructions was integral to a specialty practice. This kind of messaging cadence reduced no-shows and cancellations. Patients knew exactly what to expect from their appointment or procedure.
One of the features of Intiveo’s patient communication solutions that truly highlighted the shift to the long-term new normal was the 2-way chat. This virtual waiting room allowed patients to remain outside a practice while they were waiting. However, it kept them completely connected to their dentist. Patients could receive updates in real-time, so they would know if their dentist was running late. This contributed to patient satisfaction because the staff was able to manage patient expectations.
We have had an incredible opportunity to grow with our clients, to work with them to meet both the challenges of patient communication and the pandemic. Truly, it has been a privilege to see how dentistry practices navigated 2021.
Looking Towards the Future
As the year winds to an end, what are the biggest takeaways from 2021?
Firstly, dentists, dental office managers, and staff are incredibly resilient. The challenges imposed by the last two years have indeed closed some practices. But many of you are still here. You are still finding ways to deliver great oral health care outcomes in the new normal.
Finding ways to connect with patients despite social distancing, reducing patient hours, and scaling back to essential appointments became paramount. Dentistry practices in 2021 prioritized the digital space. Delivering healthcare remotely, where possible, was facilitated by dental software. In particular, dental software facilitated telehealth appointments, appointment reminders, and reputation management.
Reputation management itself was a key in 2021. Over a third of dentists identified marketing as an important factor in making their practice more profitable or productive. Part of this marketing strategy was finding user-friendly ways to request online reviews. Online reviews are valuable. As one survey discovered, 71% of new patients use online reviews when choosing a new practice. Online forms were also prioritized as a low-touch, time-efficient way to collect information from patients.
And so, what do we have to look forward to in 2022?
No doubt we will see many of the same trends continue. What one blog identified as the rising value of convenience will continue to be a factor in 2022. Online portals and the ability to contact dentists directly are part of this ongoing trend. Focus on the patient experience will continue to inform the direction that dentistry takes in 2022.
Intiveo has seen firsthand many of the changes that dentistry has experienced in 2021. Looking ahead to 2022, here are a few words from our CEO and co-founder, Josh DeVries:
A Note from Intiveo’s CEO
In 2020, a variable was introduced into each of our clients’ businesses that didn’t exist before.
How do we serve oral healthcare to patients while a virus which transmits via respiratory droplets and aerosols?
This brought on huge advancements in technology, whether it be new filtration systems throughout the office, additional PPE, or technology that facilitates a virtual waiting room.
A lot of dentists I spoke with used 2020 as an evaluation period where they tried to understand how this impacts their ability to practice in the future while implementing safety procedures right away to continue practicing.
2021 has been the year of opportunity for those who saw the disruption and acted accordingly. We have seen new ways to practice through tele dentistry, continuing education being administered remotely, trade shows being held virtually, and new technology helping ease the burden of doing more to serve your patients effectively.
I expect to see 2022 be a refinement period. New technology, system, and procedures were implemented out of necessity or in an abundance of caution, however, these same changes may have a long-term adverse effect on how we serve. Some of the technology we implemented wasn’t perfect, but it was the only option if we want to continue to care for patients. 2022 is the time to evaluate on how we want to operate moving forward. Take the time to review internal processes, safety protocol, and technology, to decide whether that solution is still necessary, or if it’s still the best option for you.
I do not know what the future has in store for us, but what I do know is there is an opportunity for each of us to use this as a setup rather than a setback. I wish everyone well for the remainder of the year, and a successful 2022.
CEO & Co-Found of Intiveo