Configuring your email service

Email set-up options for dental practices

A surprising number of dentists still rely on free web-mail services for business use, e.g. Hotmail, GMail and even AOL.

Whilst some of these services, I’m thinking GMail specifically, are robust and easily accessible, they are generally considered to present a much less professional image than using a domain associated email address e.g. reception@yourlocaldentist.co.uk or similar. So it is widely acknowledged that an email address(es) directly linked to the domain name on which your website is published is the recommended way to go.

Why use a domain based email address?

The main reasons for using a domain based email address are as follows:

  • clients see this as more professional – many spam mails originate from free email accounts whereas domain based emails are generally considered to be far more reliable and legitimate
  • spam filters – spam filters are often triggered by free web-mail accounts and your free account might just get filtered out too.
  • brand consistent and memorable – keeping your email address aligned with your web address is consistent and easier for your clients to remember
  • less risk – never change again. Whilst GMail isn’t going to change any time soon, other web mail services come and go. AOL for example has been security breached so many times that users are being forced away – not ideal if this is the address your contacts always use. With a domain based email, it’s yours, you should never need to change it and there are no unexpected third party influences
  • scalability – if you need to add a new email address to your domain, then you can – and the brand association is still maintained

How do most businesses configure their email?

Having established that a domain based email is the preferred option for a dentist, let’s take a closer look at how most businesses set up their email platforms.

Often it depends on size – most dentists don’t need more than 3 or 4 mail addresses and will be fine running their email via their website hosting account. Most reputable dental marketing companies provide business grade hosting for their website clients inclusive of 3 or 4 email accounts. Then it’s simply a case of connecting the email “client” on the PC at the practice to the email accounts on the hosting server. Quite easily done.

POP or IMAP?

This relates to how your mail is stored and delivered. POP accounts are very popular whereby mail transits through the email account on the server and is downloaded to the practice PC periodically. Once downloaded, the mail is not accessible to other devices. Alternatively, an IMAP account will store mail at the server level and can be accessed by numerous remote devices. Whilst IMAP can be useful in some circumstances, much more server space is needed to facilitate it.

Local mail servers

Some larger practices with bigger teams need numerous email addresses and this is where a local mail server can be useful. Rather than passing through the website hosting server, mail will be managed, incoming and outgoing, via the local mail server at the practice. At Dental Media we can liaise with your local IT technician to help get this set up.

Webmail

Where it is necessary to access mail from multiple locations and via a browser, i.e. web-based rather than a program such as Outlook on a PC, then web-mail is usually available on all good quality web hosting accounts.

If you simply can’t break away from GMail but don’t want your address to be ‘@gmail.com’, it is possible to link your domain-based address to a GMail account. This used to be free but now requires a monthly subscription to GMail’s business services. There are some advantages to this route e.g. a huge amount of storage space and universal web access, but you do have to pay extra for it. Other remotely hosted web-mail services are also available and serve a similar purpose.

A word on email security

This is quite a difficult area and one where there aren’t any really definitive guidelines. Whilst regulatory bodies such as the GDC advise that any “sensitive” correspondence needs to be encrypted, there is little definition of what “sensitive” actually means. There are also the guidelines offered by the ICO for what data businesses are obliged to protect.

It is straightforward to provide an encrypted email connection for a dental business but of course this only covers the connection at the practice side. Once the email travels onwards into the recipient’s network, this is outside of your control and quite possibly unencrypted.

Practically speaking, if email is set up and used correctly with secure, well-maintained passwords, then it is arguably more secure than traditional means of passing information. Opinion on popular dental forums tends to support this and it would appear that many dentists are still using email to liaise with patients. However, it may be prudent to consider other methods if there is a requirement to pass “sensitive” information.

One consolation is that many email services which the general public tend to use are moving to encryption, however this is no guarantee and you should consider this before simply pressing “send”. Ultimately the practice needs to consider what might happen if there was a data breach, however unlikely, and develop its systems and protocols accordingly. For email, unfortunately there is no simple, end-to-end method which currently covers all of the bases.

Summary

various email system symbolsSetting up a new website also provides a great opportunity to consolidate and professionalise the way your dental practice handles its emails.

Whether simple “POP” addresses for small/medium practices, GMail integration, or linking through to your local email server, the team at Dental Media can advise and assist.

If you would like to discuss dental practice email in more detail, please call our team on 01332 672548 for no-obligation advice.