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Compendium
February 2020
Volume 41, Issue 2

Best Practices for Improving Patient Communication in the Digital Era

Jim Higgins

A new survey, State of PRM Report, shows that the top patient relationship management (PRM) priority for dentists is improving patient communication.1 In addition, their top marketing priority is obtaining more patients. Both of these goals require a combination of the use of technology and expertise to reach patients effectively in the digital era.

In the survey, nearly 200 dentists and their staff, as well as more than 500 providers and staff in other specialties, shared their experiences with using PRM technology. Most dentists said they used some kind of PRM tool in their practice. The results show that these practices are achieving the aforementioned goals with PRM technology.

Most importantly, 84% of respondents said they are able to better communicate with patients through PRM software. Sixty-seven percent said patients are more engaged since the practice began using tools like automated messaging and real-time text messaging.

Automated messages include appointment reminders, recall reminders, surveys, and targeted messages such as product promotions, patient education, and weather closures. Beyond automated messaging, which can be done through phone, text, or email, many practices are now also using two-way text messaging. This tool allows practices to have back-and-forth conversations with patients. It can be used as a follow-up to an automated message (eg, if a patient responds "No" to a reminder, the practice can text back to reschedule) or to respond to common patient questions (eg, a patient can text the practice to obtain directions to the office).

Overall, the responses from dentists also suggested that using PRM software can improve patient experience and outcomes through the use of automated messaging and text messaging. Consider the following survey results: 81% said automated recall improves experience, and 80% said it improves outcomes; 87% said automated reminders improve experience, and 82% said they improve outcomes; 90% said text messaging improves both experience and outcomes.

While these results are insightful, technology alone is not enough. PRM solutions with the highest satisfaction also provide proven best practices to ensure success; this begins with the right onboarding and training. Years of research in the practice management and electronic health record (EHR) space have shown that getting enough training is critical to user satisfaction with technology. Satisfaction translates to higher and more robust use of technology and ultimately, better results. Thus, a dental practice should be receiving adequate training that is tied to its goals.

For example, if the practice is struggling with "no-shows" and a low rate of new patient acquisition then improving those areas should be a top priority. Training should focus on both the practical use of the actual technology for sending reminders and patient online review requests as well as best practices for timing and cadence of these communications. Training should not be "one size fits all" but should be customized to each practice's needs.

If a practice meets or exceeds its original goals and masters those areas of patient communications, new goals can be set. This is when ongoing vendor support comes into play.

Best practices for ensuring engaging communications, whether for reminders, recall, or education, include the following:

Offer patients options to ensure you reach out to them using their communication preferences-ie, phone, email, or text-as well as preferences for things like timing and language.

Use best practice cadence for timing and frequency of reminders. A recent analysis of 20 million reminders and confirmation messages showed that sending the reminders 3 weeks, 3 to 5 days, and about 3 hours ahead of an appointment could increase confirmations by 156%.2

Use a best practice approach for recall messages. Another analysis of 120 million recall messages showed that sending them out early in the week, ideally on a Tuesday, had the best response results.3 Also, the amount of recall messages sent at a time is an important consideration. The practice should not overwhelm its team or fill its schedule and force patients to wait for an appointment.

Offer patients options to connect and complete tasks through digital means like two-way text messaging, online scheduling, digital intake, and mobile payments.

When choosing PRM software for a dental practice, onboarding and ongoing support are crucial factors. A practice should know its challenges and goals and be able to ask the vendor how it will tie those to the process to ensure the practice's needs are met. How the vendor establishes and updates its best practice recommendations is another consideration. Just as patients expect the best from their dentist, a practice should expect the best from its PRM software.

About the Author

Jim Higgins
Chief Executive Officer and Founder, Solutionreach (solutionreach.com), Lehi, Utah

References

1. State of PRM Report: Four Key Trends. Solutionreach. 2019. https://www.solutionreach.com/guide/state-of-prm. Accessed November 25, 2019.

2. Three Is a Magic Number: Frequency and Timing of an Optimal Appointment Reminder Strategy. Solutionreach. 2019. https://www.solutionreach.com/guide/three-is-magic-number. Accessed November 25, 2019.

3. The Truth About Patient Recall Notifications: How Data Analysis Influences Communication Strategies. Solutionreach. 2019. https://www.solutionreach.com/guide/truth-about-recalls. Accessed November 25, 2019.

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