4 Ways Technology Maximizes Patient Engagement
Active marketing techniques to facilitate communication
The “Good Old Days.” Were they really so good? In terms of dental marketing, maybe not so much. Before the advent of the Internet, much of advertising a dental practice was a waiting game. Less than a decade ago, dentists were placing Yellow Pages ads, print ads, or mailing postcards, hoping for a response. Patient communication largely consisted of recall postcards and maybe a quarterly patient newsletter.
Today, on the other hand, there are countless opportunities for dentists to not only reach out to existing and prospective patients, but to connect with them on an ongoing basis. The ability to truly connect is what differentiates the old-school marketing methods from the current modern techniques. In fact, patient engagement is the name of the dental marketing game today. Fortunately, advancements in technology have made it easier than ever for dentists to communicate with not only their existing patient bases, but also with new patients on a year-round basis.
Many tools exist to help dentists engage with patients, but it can often be overwhelming to decide where to begin. Here are four of the top technological tools designed specifically to help dentists improve patient engagement.
Patient Communication Systems
A few short years ago, it was common practice for the front desk team to spend time calling every patient for appointment reminders and addressing and mailing patient birthday cards or perhaps the aforementioned quarterly practice newsletter. Techniques such as these were at the time terrific avenues of patient outreach and still have a place in the today’s dental marketing plan–just with a slight update to improve efficiency. E-communication (short for electronic communication) involves the use of email and text messages for routine patient communication.
With e-communication systems in place, patient outreach, including appointment reminders, holiday greetings, birthday cards, and e-newsletters, can all be automated, saving the staff time and the dentist money. E-communication makes it possible for the practice to stay connected with patients in a fraction of the time, while freeing the front desk staff to focus on other responsibilities. Dentists can continue to have that personal touch without having to pay the front desk staff to spend an inordinate amount of time and effort doing so.
Post-Appointment Surveys and Online Patient Reviews
Most e-communication packages will also include the post-appointment survey. Companies such as Sesame Communications ( www.sesamecommunications.com), DemandForce ( www.demandforce.com), Lighthouse 360 ( www.lh360.com), and DropThought ( www.dropthought.com) offer systems to automatically send post-appointment surveys to patients. “Automatically” is the keyword here–the dentist doesn’t have to rely on a staff member to remember to send the survey, and since it is sent via email, it makes it much easier on the patient to complete–and much more likely the patient will do so.
The survey responses provide a wealth of information, allowing dentists to collect testimonials and patient feedback—both good and bad. Any negative feedback allows the dentist to nip a potential problem in the bud before it has the change to become a larger issue.
Positive feedback can be used for patient testimonials. The DemandForce and Lighthouse 360 systems automatically publish the positive patient testimonials on the dentist’s listing on their respective websites.
As a result of Sesame Communications’ recent partnership with Healthgrades.com, positive reviews gathered from Sesame’s post-appointment surveys can be published on the dentist’s Healthgrades.com profile—a powerful way to build online patient testimonials considering that more than 20 million searches were conducted on Healthgrades.com for dental care providers last year. This means that testimonials will be seen by actual patients in the community who are seeking a local dentist.
Posting positive feedback from current patients in front of the eyes of new patients who are getting ready to make an appointment—that’s the definition of targeted marketing.
Modern Website Design and Structure
The dental practice website has grown to be an irreplaceable tool in a dentist’s marketing strategy. One update that has already become a “must-have” in a modern website is the incorporation of “responsive design” functionality. Responsive design ensures that a website will look, load, and function appropriately on any device. In fact, Pew Internet Research reported in 2012 that 31% of Americans used their smartphones to look for health information online.1 It’s important for dentists to remember that patients and prospective patients are not always sitting in front of a desktop computer, so it is more important than ever to have a website that reconfigures itself automatically for all types of devices.
A modern website should also be built with the optimal structure to facilitate search engine optimization (SEO). SEO is the process of improving a website’s visibility in search engine results for specific targeted keywords. The higher a website appears in the list of search results for a specific keyword, the more likely patients will click through to the dentist’s website.
The major search engines ensure that the rules of SEO are constantly changing by constantly altering their algorithms. This means that some older dental practice websites, especially template-based sites, cannot be effectively retrofitted for today’s SEO algorithms, so having a site that has been built with today’s SEO strategies in mind is essential. A good rule of thumb is that a website has a life of about 36 months, so if the practice’s site is more than 3 years old, it may be time to consider building a new site that incorporates these new rules and guidelines.
Adding a blog to the practice website is also essential to SEO. And dentists should remember that it is critical not only to have a blog as a part of the site but also to update it to positively affect website SEO.
According to a white paper on social media marketing by Lou Shuman, DMD, CAGS, and Diana P. Friedman, MA, MBA, the chief executive officer of Sesame Communications, 91% of dentists surveyed said social media helps drive traffic to the dental practice website.2
And social media is not just a passing trend. Sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and YouTube are invaluable in terms of ongoing patient engagement. Tweeting a photo or posting a video to the dental practice Facebook page helps dentists stay in contact with patients year-round, while giving a meaningful first impression to any potential patients looking for a new dentist online.
Social media indeed plays into a practice’s SEO strategy as well. Staying active on Facebook and Google+ will help to improve a dentist’s online visibility. Posting original content, having patients “check in” at the practice, and sharing industry-related articles all work together to improve the practice’s social media presence while contributing to the practice’s website’s SEO strategy.
One final note: when it comes to implementing new technology, it often pays to outsource, especially when dealing with technical expertise like website design and SEO tactics. Hiring a trusted marketing consultant to provide advice on strategy, priorities and vendor selection give dentists confidence in knowing their marketing systems will be solidly in place, and the freedom to better focus on providing quality patient care.
About the Author
Naomi Cooper is president and founder of Minoa Marketing and chief marketing consultant for Pride Institute. She is a respected dental marketing strategist, consultant, author, speaker, and industry opinion leader. Naomi teaches Pride’s groundbreaking marketing courses and works with individual dentists to craft and implement a customized modern marketing plan. She also consults for leading companies across the dental industry, developing a cohesive marketing approach and creating momentum for their marketing efforts aimed at the dental profession and the dental consumer. She can be reached via email at naomi@ minoamarketing.com, and she blogs regularly at www.minoamarketing.com. For regular updates from Naomi, including dental marketing/social media tips and tricks, follow her on Twitter (@naomi_cooper) or “like” Naomi Cooper – Minoa Marketing on Facebook at www.fb.com/minoamarketing.
1. Fox S, Duggan M. Mobile Health 2012. PewResearch Internet Project website. www.pewinternet.org/2012/11/08/mobile-health-2012. November 8, 2012. Accessed May 20, 2014.
2. Shuman L, Friedman DP. Effective Practice Marketing in the 24-7 Digital Age of Dentistry. www.sesamecommunications.com/wp-content/docs/education-research/Effective-Practice-Marketing.pdf. May 2011. Accessed May 20, 2014.