Maintaining patient engagement is an important goal for every dental practice. Staying connected with your patients is not only an important part of patient well-being. It is also key to creating patient loyalty and growing your practice.
However, the dental industry is experiencing labor shortages and overworked staff. It’s hard to deliver great patient engagement when staff are working through lunches or working overtime to get tasks done.
This is where patient engagement software can help. Let’s see how.
First – How Did We Get Here?
Working through lunches, and working extra unpaid hours, doesn’t just happen. We’re experiencing significant changes in the way we divide duties at a dental practice largely because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The long-term effects of burnout because of the pandemic have resulted in many healthcare workers leaving their jobs. This has also been true of dentistry.
As they strive to continue providing good patient engagement, dental practices have had to deal with significant changes in their day-to-day working lives. A recent analysis report by HPI and ADA found that:
- 35% of dental practices are doing things differently since Covid-19 started, with one significant long-lasting consequence of the pandemic being a reduction in efficiency.
- Margin compression has made it difficult for dentists to work at the top of their license.
- Dentists, for example, are almost 50% more likely to be doing hygienist, dental assistant, and administrative duties than before the pandemic.
- But, it’s not just dentists – practices have seen an increase in cross-training staff and requiring staff to multitask across the board.
The same study revealed something interesting about why practices are losing appointments. When asked, “Which of the following factors prevented your dental practice’s appointment schedule from reaching 100% last week?”, the number one reason, at 81%, was due to no-shows, and cancellations less than 24 hours before the appointment. The following two reasons were cancellations more than 24 hours in advance and not enough patients making appointments. Finally, 29.3% of respondents said that they could not reach 100% in their appointment schedule because of trouble filling vacant staff positions.
What is the takeaway from these numbers? In other words, what can these numbers tell us about what your staff is experiencing? And what can they tell us about patient engagement?
The main takeaway is that staff are likely trying to keep a lot of balls in the air. If dentists and administrative and/or front-of-office staff alike are performing a lot of duties outside of the scope of their role, then it is likely that they are stressed. Administrative and/or front-of-office staff are also likely working through lunch or adding extra hours to their workdays. Dentists are unable to prioritize the important surgical and procedural work they do for patients.
As we mentioned above, one significant long-lasting consequence of the pandemic has been a reduction in efficiency. All of these issues above are part of the cause of that inefficiency. Dental practice staff are managing a very challenging workload.
This also means that they have little time for patient engagement. Some examples of what this means might include:
- Staff are unable to make phone calls or send emails to remind patients about their appointments.
- Staff are unable to do adequate follow-up with patients to remind them to come in for routine dental appointments.
- Staff are unable to be attentive to patients either over the phone or in the office because they are stressed, busy, or behind on other work tasks.
It is important to say here that, even while this is happening, dental practice staff are likely trying their best. Providing good patient engagement when working conditions are not optimal is incredibly challenging!
Why This Matters
It’s one thing to say that your patients deserve good patient engagement. But it’s also important to acknowledge what kind of impact this has on your staff. These are not conditions that are conducive to work-life balance!
Let’s talk a little bit about why this matters (we discussed it as well in an earlier blog). Work-life balance means different things to different people. But, there are some things that contribute to this balance. Some of these essentials include:
- Ensuring that work does not carry an overwhelming emotional burden
- Accomplishing work tasks effectively within regular working hours and the workweek
- Having time outside of work to dedicate to loved ones and activities you enjoy
Having a manageable emotional weight at work is not about having smooth, challenge-free days without any mishaps or mistakes. This isn’t realistic – and it’s also not what we’re talking about.
When we talk about managing emotional weight, we refer to the ability to find contentment in your life while taking into account the emotional impact of work. This includes ensuring that you have the necessary tools to perform your job effectively and be emotionally resourced enough to navigate the emotions of the people you serve.
For instance, in a dental practice, finding the time to manage anxious or frustrated patients if you are also calling other patients to remind them about their appointments or do post-appointment follow up.
Let’s look again at some of the numbers from the ADA and HPI reports. Again, what we notice is that staff are multitasking and often work that is outside of their usual job description. One of the resources that dental practice staff are so sorely lacking is time.
This is one of the key ways that a patient engagement platform can help.
What You Need from a Patient Engagement Platform
The advancements we’ve made in technology have revolutionized how we approach patient care. Patient engagement software is no different.
This tool gives your staff the ability to automate patient reminders, eliminating the need to do manual reminders, which is a massive time-saver. Patients are more likely to come prepared for appointments if instructions are included in these reminders. As a result of sending paperwork in advance of appointments, patients have the opportunity to fill it out at home, avoiding the issue of filling it out on staff time. Unfortunately, illegible handwriting is still an issue, but digital forms can eliminate this problem. So, it’s essential to consider the messaging cadence that applies to different appointment types, providing a tailored approach to each. The result of the appropriate strategy and tools is that your dental practice provides your staff with the gift of a less stressful workflow. In short, tools like patient engagement software can give them back a significant amount of time.
At Intiveo, we hear from practices every day about the different patient engagement software has made in their lives. If you’re curious to learn more about how this kind of software can transform practices, hear directly from those practices!
Get Back to Eating Lunch
Although working life in dental offices has changed since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, many of our technological tools are rising to meet new challenges. Delivering patient engagement in a fast-paced work environment becomes more possible when you utilize these tools. This allows your staff to get time back – so they can get back to enjoying a great work-life balance and eating lunch on their lunch breaks!
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