The COVID-19 crisis has disrupted the operations of many industries, and the dentistry world is not exempt. Dental practices have had to deal with and adapt to the unexpected challenges brought on by the pandemic.
These trying times require a new strategy for your dental practice. Fortunately, the solution is simple: digital dentistry.
Keith Washington, the Vice President of Products at ProSites, shared valuable insights about digital dentistry in a Benco webinar held on June 9, 2021. For more than 7 years, he has led ProSites in providing various digital solutions for dental practices, helping them acquire, engage, and retain patients more efficiently.
This article will discuss some of the insights gleaned from the webinar, including the challenges dentists face due to the COVID-19 outbreak and how digital dentistry can help remedy these issues. Read on to learn how leveraging technology, automation, and digital channels can set your practice up for great success this year!
Challenges Brought On by the Pandemic (and How Transitioning to Digital Dentistry Helps)
Fewer Patients Coming to the Office
A poll conducted by the American Dental Association found that dental practices continue to operate at 75% to 80% capacity. However, because of the pandemic, fewer people are visiting their regular dentists. The study aims to assess the impact of COVID-19 on dental professionals.
Many hesitate to make dental appointments because they are unsure about the COVID-19 restrictions or don’t know whether their local dentist is available for their desired treatment. The key to reaching these patients is giving them the information they need to decide, which can be done through digital dentistry tools.
One example of the digital solutions dentists can use is website optimization. It makes it easier for patients to find information about your services, operating hours, and the COVID protocols followed by your practice. Digital dentistry can help reach more patients, connect them with their dentists, and encourage them to get the care they need.
Operating at a Reduced Capacity
According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the pandemic shut down approximately 198,000 active dental professionals in the US. Those whose practices are still open, however, are operating at a reduced capacity.
Despite this, dentists’ schedules are always full. The situation is primarily due to the changes brought on by COVID-19 health and safety guidelines. Appointments take longer to complete because dentists have to change their PPE after every patient visit. They also have to sanitize the operatory more often.
Proper scheduling is one way digital solutions could come into play as these techniques streamline operations and get more patients through the door. Various digital dentistry tools can automate tasks that take time away from more pressing concerns and allow dentists to improve efficiency even at a reduced capacity.
Financial Issues and Constraints
The pandemic has caused a lot of monetary distress to dental practices. In fact, according to a study by the National Institutes of Health, dentistry is the profession that has been most affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. About 42% of dentists reported that their income had stopped completely.
The same NIH study notes that around 76% of dentists whose practices are still open expect a significant plunge in income. Due to COVID restrictions, many dentists only see a few patients or only work in emergency cases. Given these constraints, dentists must maximize their time to get the most revenue, and digital dentistry can be the way to do so.
Digital tools, such as teledentistry or video conferencing software, can let dentists offer online consultations, some of which you can bill to the patients’ insurance provider. This method is only one example of ways that digital solutions can open new dentistry opportunities.
How Digital Dentistry Can Help Your Practice Thrive During COVID and Beyond
The pandemic has forced many practices to grow and change in ways they haven’t done before. So, ask yourself this: what else can you do to make your practice more effective?
Through digital dentistry, you can save time by automating manual tasks, decrease errors in your process, reduce stress for both you and your staff, and increase patient satisfaction. Here are examples of digital solutions, as shared by Washington in the webinar, that can enhance your practice’s pre-visit, appointment, and post-visit processes:
Automated Patient Recall
One of the digital solutions that can be of great use to your practice is the automated patient recall system. This software can allow you to find unscheduled or untreated patients, reach out to them automatically, and encourage them to make appointments.
Since the process is automated and comprehensive, your staff won’t have to manually check every patient record. Instead, the system sends automatic reminders straight to your patients. In addition, the communication system is multi-functional, letting you reach each patient in the manner that works best for them, whether through email, chat, text, or calls.
You can use this digital dentistry tool to:
- reach patients who haven’t been in the clinic for more than 12 months,
- send a postcard to your loyal patients and thank them for their business, or
- communicate updates about your upcoming schedule and availability.
Before booking a dental or medical appointment, 54% of patients research the doctor or dentist online. This data shows why it’s essential for dentists to keep their websites and other online channels up to date.
One tool you can use for digital dentistry is Google My Business. Make a post that includes information about your hours of operation and temporary closures, the changes to your onboarding process, and updates on your practice’s safety and hygiene management.
It’s also crucial to optimize your website with the right keywords and key phrases. Know which of your procedures are the most valuable, and focus your marketing efforts on these.
To increase engagement and educate visitors of your site, you can opt to create videos of your treatment plans and procedures. Videos help patients know what to expect when they come to your practice and boost their trust in you.
Online Appointment Booking
This digital dentistry tool gives patients an easier way to schedule appointments. You can let patients access a calendar that you can control from your website. Then, they can see when you are available, choose the right provider, and request a time that works.
The advantages of online appointment booking platforms include:
- Streamlining scheduling for staff and patients
- Controlling and customizing availability
- Allowing flexible provider preferences
- Increasing patient satisfaction
Online Patient Forms
One of the most time-consuming parts of the onboarding process is filling out patient forms. Since the pandemic has made it necessary for dentists to restrict their working hours, any time wasted during an appointment is a significant loss in revenue. Thankfully, there’s a digital dentistry tool that can make this process easier and quicker: online patient forms.
These online forms typically include:
- Patient information
- Registration forms
- Health history
- Examination forms
- Recommendation forms
- Consent forms
- Coronavirus questionnaires
- Documents regarding their payment abilities (change in coverage, a shift in employment status, update on policyholders, etc.)
Encourage your patients to fill out the online patient forms before your appointment. Doing so will dramatically speed up your onboarding process and efficiently address critical care questions that may arise during the visit.
Your patients like to know what to expect and how they should prepare before an appointment. With digital dentistry tools, you can set an automated reminder that communicates your onboarding procedure to your patient. This process eliminates some stress on the patient’s part and makes the process easier and more seamless for you and your staff.
Review of Online Patient Forms
Patient forms often include critical care components that help with treatment. The problem with paper documents is that they can sometimes be challenging to sift through. They can even get lost. This won’t be an issue with online form systems. With this digital dental care tool, you can read and review critical information about the patient right on your office computer.
Text or Chat Check-Ins
Another digital dentistry tool you can use to create a seamless and smooth onboarding process is live chat or texting. Many patients these days are too busy to take calls, and your dental staff may also find it challenging and time-consuming to call every patient. Live chat or text check-ins can help you better communicate with patients and improve your patient flow on appointment day.
Digital Treatment Plans
According to Benco webinar speaker, Washington, the average dental case acceptance rate is 50% to 70% for established patients. The way to increase the case acceptance rate of your practice is to build your patients’ trust in you, which can be done with help from digital treatment plans.
A digital treatment plan helps a patient understand the process, the alternative treatment options, possible costs, and the next steps. You can relay this information through video to make it more easily digestible for patients. Doing so will also help maximize your time.
Instead of doing in-office visits, which can increase both parties’ risk of getting COVID, teledentistry solutions can be a good alternative. The ADA believes that teledentistry can help make dental care more accessible and reduce distance barriers for patients.
Teledentistry can include synchronous or asynchronous virtual interactions, remote patient monitoring (RPM), and mobile health (mHealth). This digital dentistry tool can save you time, increase the efficiency of your process, and allow you to help more patients without hassle.
HIPAA-Compliant Live Chat
Once the appointment is finished, you can use live chat technology to check in with your patient. With this digital dentistry tool, you can show your patient that you care about their well-being, especially after a complex treatment case. Live chat also helps them reach you quickly if they have feedback about their care or need a follow-up treatment.
Online Bill Pay
Utilizing online solutions can help you prevent late or delayed payments. Online bill payment options are more accessible for patients to use and less hassle for dentists to collect.
Learn More About Digital Dentistry With Benco!
Digital solutions are the future of dentistry. Transitioning to digital dentistry today will help your practice thrive throughout the pandemic and beyond. For more information on utilizing new technologies in your office, watch the Benco webinar “The Digital Dentist: How to Use Digital Solutions to Engage and Secure Patients” with Keith Washington, the VP of Products of ProSites.
Every month, Benco conducts educational webinars for dental professionals. Some of our upcoming webinars are “Bullet-Proof Your Office: Conquering OSHA, HIPAA, and COVID-19 Management Successfully” with Jill Obrachta and “Radiology Principles & Safety” with Tija Hunter. Invest in your continuing education with our help!