Serving Your Patients in a Post-COVID-19 World
As millions of Americans have shifted from the workplace to working (or not working) from home because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, they are quickly adapting to new ways of accomplishing everyday tasks. Shelter-in-place mandates have expanded the pace at which people are embracing virtual and on-demand communications. Calls using the Zoom app, for example, have supplanted face-to-face meetings. With non-emergency in-office dental appointments on pause in many states, here are several ways dentists can expand their service offerings to accommodate patients in the times of COVID-19.
Video chat-Even in the midst of a pandemic, patients need to reach their dentist. Teledentistry, and especially video conferencing, can help patients and dentists stay connected while remaining at home. Video consults enable dentists to see patients without having to actually be in the office, making it easier to diagnose an emergent case or ease patients' minds in non-urgent matters. This is particularly advantageous in a pandemic, but video conferencing also offers benefits in the course of normal life. For patients who have physical limitations, difficulties getting to the office, or even limited access to dentistry, video chat makes oral healthcare collaboration available that otherwise may have been put off. In a recent report, over half of Kaiser Permanente patient interactions in 2017 were virtual and patient satisfaction levels reached 93%.1 Video consults clearly cater to patients' preferences for instant information, making them a potential near-future frontier for dentists.
Live chat-Live, or online, chat is another way to communicate virtually via a real-time instant messaging feature, often accessed through the practice website. This affords patients-and prospective patients-the ability to reach out to the office at any time that is convenient for them, including evenings and weekends, or when the practice may be closed for extended timeframes. Instead of calling the practice and being forced to leave a voicemail or wait on hold, patients and prospective patients can ask questions and even schedule future appointments, enabling the practice to capture them precisely in the moment they are interested and before they can inquire elsewhere. Dentists should know that an online chat does not require a member of the dental team to be on the job at all times, as there are companies who work specifically with dental practices to provide this kind of 24/7 service.
Online patient portal-In addition to live chat, more robust and HIPAA-compliant online tools are available for dentists to use to simplify patient communication. Building an online portal within the practice website gives patients a convenient, secure place to communicate with the dental team, fill out forms, and submit information prior to their appointments. This serves to keep patients feeling connected to the practice even when it is closed and can streamline patient check-in when regular appointments resume.
Online billing is another aspect of a patient portal that provides convenience to patients, making it easier for them to pay outstanding balances and improving dentists' collections rates. To have a secure online patient portal, the practice website will need to be https-compliant to protect valuable patient health and financial information.
Patient affordability-Regardless of healthcare crises or economic downturns, patients need ways to afford dentistry. Overcoming patients' financial limitations is often a tremendous challenge for dentists today. Therefore, providing alternative ways for patients to pay can be highly beneficial to dentists. Utilizing a third-party approach can help insulate the dentist-patient relationship by outsourcing collections and thus removing the need for difficult conversations. Allowing alternative payment options, such as CareCredit® or Compassionate Finance™, also conveys the message to patients that the dental practice is willing to accommodate them, particularly in a time of need.
Offering flexible, innovative services shows patients that the practice values their time and is empathetic toward their needs, and can give the practice a distinct competitive edge in these difficult times. Long term, these services will continue to help attract new patients in search of dental care with minimal appointments and downtime. Additionally, once regular dental practice resumes, the availability of same-day procedures and services may be beneficial. Single-visit dentistry, from in-office whitening for an Instagram-worthy smile to same-day, one-appointment restorations that eliminate the need to take extra time off from work, may go a long way toward satisfying the immediate gratification needs of patients and boosting production and practice profitability once the office gets back up and running.
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1. Kervin L. The telehealth shift: why current changes will alter the future of care. PatientPop website. March 24, 2020. https://www.patientpop.com/blog/running-a-practice/telehealth-shift/. Accessed April 21, 2020.