Keep Your Patient Connected with Patient Engagement
The most important goal of any dental practice is to deliver great oral health care outcomes. But, it’s impossible to do that without good patient engagement.
Many people fear going to the dentist. In addition, both universal healthcare in Canada and most healthcare plans in the United States don’t cover dental care. It’s challenging to persuade patients to prioritize dental health.
This is where patient engagement comes in. This is the way to keep patients connected to your practice, which leads to incredible benefits such as patient loyalty, increased revenue, and better health outcomes.
Let’s get started.
Identifying the Challenges of Patient Engagement
When deciding how you will first tackle patient engagement, you have to consider the challenges. What are the challenges that are particular to your practice? What are the barriers to your success?
In our blog in January, we analyzed and discussed the many challenges that dental practices can face. In brief, they are:
- A lack of funds. There are many expenses inherent in running a dental practice. Equipment alone is a huge expense. It is easy not to prioritize patient engagement in your budget
- A lack of time. Your staff is busy! There are a lot of day-to-day tasks to consider for anyone who works in or adjacent to healthcare. Finding the time in their day to engage patients can be truly challenging, especially if you are calling patients individually to follow up with them.
- A lack of resources. Staff time is one of these – but it’s not the only one! Patient engagement often requires software, especially in our age of immediate communication. Your patients will often prefer to text, and setting up and learning software to engage your patients might be more than your staff feels they have the capacity for. The efficiency that comes with patient engagement software might be just out of reach because your staff is already at capacity.
Consider these three factors. How might your practice prioritize things differently? Remember, implementing a strategy is a temporary process. Certainly, there are parts of any strategy that are ongoing. Plus, it’s important to have flexibility and be able to change with the needs of your patients.
But the beginning is temporary. How can you get started?
Fostering Trust with Your Patients
Patient engagement is built on good communication. The fundamental element in any good communication relationship is trust. Your relationship with your patients is no different.
It is, of course, evident that your patients should trust you. But showing trust in your patients is an important element as well. One of the best ways to do this is to meet them where they’re at! This could look like:
- Trusting that they are voicing their concerns accurately, to the best of their abilities
- When you are unclear about what they are trying to communicate, asking for clarification
- Actively listening to what they share
Bear in mind that part of fostering trust is to show the patient that you are a good decision-maker. This is something that every patient hopes for in their healthcare provider. The logic of how you make decisions about their health will have a profound effect on your relationship. Involving them in the decision-making can be an important element, as well.
It is also important to offer an authentic version of yourself. This can sound like a big undertaking – after all, we are not always encouraged to be our authentic selves in the workplace! But, it can be a simple thing, like asking how your patient’s day is going or what they’ve been up to since you last saw them.
You can send them all the appointment reminders you like, but the thing that will really set your patient engagement experience apart is how you treat them in your office.
As we will discuss, patient engagement often involves providing the patient information remotely. An appointment reminder by text is a great example of this. But, nothing replaces the experience you give them at your office.
Communicating Across a Language Barrier
Patient engagement relies very heavily on good communication. As you probably already know from day-to-day life at your practice, it can be hard to maintain good communication across a language barrier.
This is a very important part of patient engagement to consider. Obviously, no one reasonably expects every dentist to know every language. However, every patient deserves to receive the best possible healthcare, regardless of what language they speak.
How do we reconcile this?
Showing your patients that you will do your best to meet them where they are at is important. You can try some different methods to communicate across a language barrier:
- Using visual aids or physical cues.
- Learn a few basic sentences. Even if languages are not your strong suit, the effort will not go unnoticed.
- Suggest that your patients bring a family member to their appointment so that someone can translate.
- If someone on your staff can help with translating, try to find a way to do this so that it has minimal impact on their workday.
- Some dentistry practices are able to connect with an interpreter who can do the majority of translation for patients.
While this may feel like a huge undertaking, you will truly see the benefits of your efforts through patient loyalty. A practice where your patients feel care and attentiveness is one that they will recommend to others.
Again, patient engagement comes down to trust. Your patients will feel a great deal of trust in you if they are respected at your practice.
How You and Your Patients Benefit
It may seem obvious to say that if your patients trust you, it will benefit your practice – but what do those benefits really look like?
- One of these benefits is increased patient loyalty. Patients will return to environments that they trust and where they feel respected. Establishing that trust will let patients know that they are your top priority.
- Increased patient loyalty also leads to increased referrals. Of course, your patients will recommend your practice if you create an environment built on trust! Happy patients are the best advocates for your practice.
- Patients are also more likely to experience improved satisfaction levels if they feel trust in your practice. This can even be true if the health outcome wasn’t quite what they were hoping for. Because you have established that trust, they will be able to contextualize the outcome because they will know that you did your best work.
- A trust-based relationship usually also leads to better treatment outcomes. Again, trust is a cornerstone of communication. If you have a good communication relationship with your patients, that will facilitate treatment and diagnosis.
- An important benefit of trust is that you are more likely to see better financial outcomes. When you consider that patient loyalty and referrals are more likely to increase because of patient trust, you can see how this will result in greater revenue. This allows you to reinvest in your business and maintain the stability of meeting your bottom line.
Invest in trust and your patients will reward you!
Building Your Patient Engagement Strategy
With these priorities in mind, how can you go about building your patient engagement strategy? What are the building blocks you need to utilize?
Something to consider while building your strategy is whether or not your staff has the time to make phone calls. This may seem like an essential day-to-day task in any practice that it’s impossible to do without – and it is. But, it’s possible that your staff could make fewer phone calls. Deciding whether or not every follow-up with patients will be manual is essential to how your strategy will unfold.
It’s not impossible to make this work! But in considering the many tasks that your staff has to accomplish in a day, it is worth considering alternatives.
For example, consider what the age demographic is for your practice. Are your patients mostly older, and are used to being contacted by phone? Or are they Gen Z and millennials, who usually prefer to receive appointment reminders by phone? Are you able to give them both options?
This is where patient engagement software can be really helpful. There are many different types of software on the market (take a browse at Capterra or G2!) that will allow you to automate different types of messaging. Selecting the right one for you will depend a lot on what kind of treatments your practice offers. What kind of reminders and follow-up messaging do they need? Are there medications that they will need to take before their appointment? How frequently do you need to send messaging of this kind?
These are all elements to consider when building your patient engagement strategy!
Getting Your Patients to Buy In
So, you’ve decided to prioritize patient engagement. Your practice has built a strategy that you feel will serve your patients and be efficient for your staff.
Let’s say, for example, you have chosen to automate your messaging – as opposed to manually following up with each patient by phone. This means you are likely to select a patient engagement software that will facilitate the automation of that messaging.
But once you have made that selection, getting patients and staff to buy in can be really challenging!
Here are some ways to make that onboarding process easier:
- Show your patients that this new change means they get choices! Allowing your patients to choose their medium of communication often persuades them to buy in more. If you’re able to offer text, email, or phone, they’ll see the wisdom in your software choice.
- In addition, be sure to give your patients a lot of notice that this change is coming. Catching them off guard will bring up challenges that are very easy for you to prevent.
- Choose a software with a good onboarding and customer support team. If your staff feels supported during the onboarding process, chances are that they will buy into the software almost immediately. Should any need for troubleshooting arise, they will also know that they have a team to call on to support them.
There are definitely ways to implement an automation-based strategy without too many headaches. Plus, the faster you automate your messaging, the faster you get to see the rewards!
Keeping Your Ongoing Relationship Healthy
It’s all well and good to say that your patient engagement strategy will include automation. But, there are several different types of messaging you can use to carry out your strategy. And it can be challenging to know where to start!
Truly, one of the most important parts of patient engagement is maintaining your relationship between appointments. Finding those appropriate points of contact is essential.
Patients will not all respond the same to the same content. The important thing is to have variety.
For example, some patients will respond really well to a newsletter. Keeping them updated on changes at your practice – new staff, highlights from the month – will really help them feel connected.
However, for some patients, this is more information than they want. Just sending them a gentle reminder about an online review after they have visited your practice is enough.
Another way to maintain that patient feedback loop are surveys. Sending a survey about your practice can be a great way not only to get feedback but also to keep your patients engaged. You can ask them questions about their experience at your practice. This gets them thinking about the positives while knowing that if there are any negatives, your practice cares enough to incorporate their suggestions.
A great offer to your patients can be a reward system if they refer someone to your practice. Not only does this keep your patient engaged, but it also keeps you top of mind and results in a referral.
Brainstorming ways that your practice can stay engaged with your patients is a great way to build a strategy!
Keeping Dental Health Relevant
One of the benefits of patient engagement is the opportunity to educate about dental health. Many patients struggle to prioritize their dental health, for a variety of reasons. Often, patients are paying out of pocket for dental procedures. This will often result in not prioritizing dental health.
It can be a challenge to frame dental health education. Patients lead busy, stressful lives. Adding another thing that they have to read about an activity they should prioritize can be a hard sell.
The good news is, when you frame it the right way, education about dental health does bring in more patients! It is worth including how dental health affects overall, long-term health in a newsletter, for example. It’s also great to place this kind of messaging inside reminders that your patients are due for a check-up. This kind of messaging about dental health is better than, say, a text message sent out of the blue.
Once dental health has been properly contextualized for your patients, they are more likely to take the information in. And, patients who understand why their dental health matters are more likely to book appointments.
This benefit has two layers. First, a healthy patient is a happy patient. But, a healthy patient is also a loyal patient. They are more likely not only to book those appointments but to refer other patients to your practice.
Educate your patients about dental health to keep your patients healthy and grow your practice. This is a key part of patient engagement!
Patient Engagement: The Gift That Keeps On Giving
There are a number of ways that patient engagement can benefit your practice, as we’ve seen. Not only does it result in more loyal patients and increased referrals, but it also results in better treatment outcomes and better financial outcomes.
But the benefits don’t stop there!
- The ability to personalize your messaging, especially if you use automation, can make your patients feel valued. You can contact them in the way that they have selected, whether that is by text, email, or phone, and you can personalize it with their aim, as opposed to a form. Having ‘Dear Valued Patient’ at the top doesn’t actually make a patient feel valued! Giving patients the option to opt out of certain communications will also make them feel valued. They may love your practice, but they may not want a holiday message from you, for example.
- In addition to an increase in referrals, patient engagement can also increase online advocacy. Having that engagement means you are top of mind – and also means that you can ask for patients for those much-desired online reviews. While asking for any social media review can be helpful, Google reviews will usually be the most desirable. Having good Google reviews boosts you in their algorithm, which in turn brings in more patients. It’s awesome to watch your patients become your practice’s greatest advocates!
- Part of that contribution to an increase in revenue is the decrease in missed appointments. Almost certainly, reminders will be part of your patient engagement strategy. Whether you are reminding about an appointment or about medication that needs to be taken to ensure a successful outcome, fewer appointments will be missed through patient engagement. Your patients are busy – support them through reminders and you will find that your practice benefits, too!
Patient Engagement in the Real World
At Intiveo, we know something about what patient engagement can look like on the ground. For reference, what we offer is patient communication software designed with engagement in mind.
To see what patient engagement looks like in practice, let’s talk about HealthPlex Dental Centre. As a full-service general dental practice, they offer a variety of services that require several different types of communication. Their patient engagement strategy had to cover everything from mass notifications to personalized appointment reminders. In order to reduce inefficiencies, HealthPlex Dental Centre decided to switch to the automation that comes with the software.
After implementing their strategy, HealthPlex Dental saw the following outcomes:
- Their cancellation rate dropped by 80%
- Their patient reviews increased in just one month by 25%
- They began to see consistent ongoing patient communication, plus an increase in recall rates
- Their staff were able to save 3 hours a day
Another example is in Wayside Dental Centre. They sometimes saw as many as 200 patients in a day. While their patient engagement strategy already included patient communication software, making the switch to Intiveo helped strengthen their results, including:
- A patient confirmation rate of 80%
- An increase of patient reviews at 500%
- More prepared patients and a dramatic decrease in cancellations and no-shows
What this shows us is that the preparation and execution of a good patient engagement strategy really does show amazing results. With the right tools, success is possible!
Patient Engagement: the Specialty Practice Edition
Of course, not every practice is the same. It’s well worth asking what patient engagement would look like for specialty practices, such as OMS, periodontics, and more.
Luckily, at Intiveo, we have examples of those as well!
GRAFT Periodontics utilizes Intiveo software as part of their patient engagement strategy. This was a switch from a manual patient engagement strategy that included a lot of phone calls. Utilizing patient communication software allowed them to personalize and automate their messaging. This facilitated the following improvements:
- A significant decrease in patients coming to appointments unprepared. This was especially important for operations! Customizing pre-op instructions according the type of appointment was a huge asset
- An 80% confirmation rate
- A 70% form completion rate
Sharma Oral Surgery reported that they were able to implement their patient engagement strategy that much more easily with patient communication technology. The ability to customize their automated messaging allowed them to communicate more effectively, especially with recall. As Dr. Sharma noted, “Intiveo has allowed us to add an additional layer of communication that helps us build a better relationship with our patients”.
For general practices and specialty practices alike, we can see how implementing a patient engagement strategy using patient communication software can create significant changes for your practice!
Intiveo: Closer to Your Patients
As you strategize for patient engagement, you will end up researching how different brands of software can support your journey. So, let us tell you a bit about Intiveo!
At Intiveo, we understand that creating long-lasting relationships with your patients requires the right tools. Our software is created with the needs of both practices and patients in mind. To this end, Intiveo offers software for the following types of practices:
- General Dentistry
In addition, we understand that the scale of your practice also has an effect on the needs of both staff and patients. We created software with the different needs of independent, multi-location, and enterprise practice in mind. This last category can be for DSOs or academic institutions alike. For practices that need it, we have extra tool add-ons for forms, social reviews, and referral management.
Among our features, your practice is able to:
- Personalize the way your patient receive their messaging – text, email, or phone
- Options for communicating in French, Spanish, and Chinese, in addition to English
- Customize the messaging according to appointment type
- Utilize the support of an onboarding team and ongoing customer-facing team
If you are interested in learning more about how Intiveo can benefit your practice, connect with one of our team today to book a meeting!
The Patient Engagement Journey
Truly, the benefits of patient engagement cannot be overstated. As you navigate the challenges, know that with the right tools, it is possible for your practice to achieve your goals and enjoy many of those benefits.
We wish you luck on your patient engagement journey!