Looking Forward – The Digital Dental Patient Journey
How might the communication interface between patient and dentist look in the “new world” ahead?
The advent of Covid-19 has turned the world of business upside down, including UK dentistry. Indeed it’s arguable that the private dental sector is one of the worst hit from several different angles, whether financial or the basic inability to provide critical care for patients at the moment.
As we move towards the lock-down being lifted, it is worth reviewing how the patient experience will likely change as dentists re-open their doors and indeed, what this means for dental practice marketing.
Whilst it’s obvious that physical contact for the treatment phase is still essential, albeit potentially with new protocols, most other elements of the patient journey will change. A large majority of people have progressively become conditioned to social distancing and as a result, businesses have adapted their processes to continue to trade. Many of us are now ordering food online, contacting other businesses via Zoom video call or similar and generally working out how to function “virtually”.
Even as restrictions ease, with no sign of a vaccine and available therapeutics still very much exploratory, these new ways of living and working are set to stay for many months ahead. We are seeing a real and unexpected paradigm shift in the way that the world operates and dentists need to adapt to this to ensure continuity of business. Even then, and as we’ve heard elsewhere, there will be bumps in the road.
Map out your business flow and patient journey
In a former life before running a marketing agency for dentists, I was responsible for implementing very large ERP systems for pharmaceutical and agri businesses in factories I managed in the UK and Ireland. The start of this always involved carefully charting out the “as-is” business process and then the “to-be” process. This was then followed by a “gap” analysis to work out how the business would get from where it was to where it needed to be most cost-effectively and efficiently. I would advocate a similar mapping process for your own business to establish exactly what you need to do to meet patient aspirations in the new world which now faces us. This will help you to work out the priorities, costs and how this will reflect in your practice SOPs, financials, marketing and more.
Where are you likely to see changes in the way you work?
How things will change with respect to dental treatments is not the purpose of this blog and will not be discussed here. These aspects are being well-elaborated on multiple clinical forums and webinars across the web and no doubt many of you will already be taking part. Instead, let’s look at the non-treatment patient “touch” points and how these will likely be impacted.
Keep in mind that even those patients who aren’t already tech savvy, will be endeavouring to become so as more and more services switch to an online format – this is through necessity. They will be expecting to interact with you “virtually” for as much of their patient journey as possible as many will still have significant concerns, particularly with regard to “close quarter” activity. So it is essential that you do all you can to meet these requirements to help renew patient confidence.
Marketing – the fundamental building blocks of your marketing will not change too much. So your practice website, blog and social media channels will still be the key platforms where new patients find you and hopefully take up your services. Key here is to keep these platforms updated and maintained, including with information about new safety protocols and equipment you have implemented. Indeed we are seeing many clients preparing to launch social media campaigns to broadcast exactly what they’ve been doing. Most dentists have kept up with their search engine optimisation campaigns as they know the importance of excellent Google ranking. This will be even more important as we come out of lockdown and with treatment capacity needing to be filled.
Keeping up with you e-newsletters using MailChimp and the like will also be very important. Communication is king, particularly in a dynamic environment, so it’s prudent to continue the good work you’ve likely been doing during lock-down with your patient communication strategies.
Supplementing the website will be new techniques including virtual smile assessment and video consultation – please see our earlier blogs about SmileMate and the Confrere system for more information. These types of systems will increasingly become embedded in the re-engineered patient journey.
On-line booking and payments – you may be surprised to hear that the majority of dentists don’t have such systems in place, even where the practice management systems support it. The decision is now being made for you as patients will expect these kinds of services to be in place to avoid having to interact with a person at the reception desk.
Pre-appointment form completion – we are currently helping dentists with secure systems to gather patient information before they attend the practice for treatment, again streamlining the overall experience and minimising personal interaction.
Post-treatment follow-up – we will also see dentists start to conduct post-treatment follow-up virtually where it is practical. The requirement for physical examinations will still exist of course, but the need for the traditional “pop in so we can have a quick look” type of appointments will be examined very carefully to see what can safely be engineered out. Expect video consultation to play a big part here too.
Together with the physical changes being introduced into practices e.g. virus “killer” air-conditioning, perspex screening, dedicated surgeries for AGP, enhanced PPE etc, we are also helping dentists to re-engineer the patient journey to help minimise personal interaction, promote safety and renew confidence. Much of the “virtual” re-engineering is actually more cost-effective than you might imagine and also quicker and simpler to implement than some of the physical changes to practices we are seeing.
Rest-assured that the early adopters of these types of technologies will steal the lead, so procrastination could result in even more damage to your business. Patients will look to see who has their safety at the forefront and also those who make their dental treatment as easy and risk-free as possible in the new world ahead of us. So please don’t delay. If you haven’t yet started to re-engineer your patient journey, now is the time to get it done.
If you’d like assistance to set up any of the tools discussed above or elsewhere in our blog, the Dental Media team will be pleased to help. You can reach us on 01332 672548 or via the website contact form.Google+