How to Improve a Dental Practice: 6 Ways to Speed Up Patient Intake
The moment a patient walks into your office and the front door closes behind them, they officially enter your world. Knowing how to improve your dental practice starts with a review of your patient’s entire experience, with both efficiency and hospitality in mind.
Granted, you can’t control what happens outside your waiting room. You never know what circumstances are affecting that person’s overall mood or health before they arrive. However, you, as a dentist, have the ultimate control over how they are treated and the quality of that treatment.
The entire intake process can either be a reason for patients to return to your office again and again or an excuse not to set foot in the place again. These are some easy steps to not only to speed-up your intake process, but also to reduce patient stress and increase satisfaction.
Eliminate Paper Intake Forms
How much would it improve your dental practice if new patient intake forms were already completed when they arrive?
Emailing or texting patients a link where they can complete their basic intake information cuts down on the amount of time they need in the office prior to their treatment. It also doesn’t require manual input from your staff when that patient fills out a paper form.
You could also use wireless equipment, like an iPad or a tablet, to have patients complete forms in-office. (That software needs to be HIPAA compliant, of course.) Digitizing your practice frees up your staff to engage with people in the office, improving one-on-one interaction with new and old patients alike.
Once you migrate to a paperless system, your practice can benefit from appointment-setting software, online payment options, and more. Imagine how much it would benefit the intake process if a patient could reschedule a missed appointment right from a cell phone. The more your staff can click, drag, and drop, the less time they need to update appointments, process payments, or update any patient contact information.
Automation and dental practice software improve the entire patient experience. Set the goal to make your entire practice, including the intake process, paperless. The IT professionals of a dental service organization (DSO) will know exactly which vendors and software solutions are suited for you. Automating even one step of your intake process could cut down on hours of work, reduce errors, and improve patient communication.
Beef Up Your Patient Support Network
When patients call the office, you don’t want them to be greeted by an answering machine. Working with an experienced patient support center provides you with those additional resources without having to hire additional staff. Some of the advantages of an outsourced support network include:
- Booking and rescheduling appointments after hours
- Responding to billing and payment questions on off-hours
- Rolling calls during busy periods
- Handling calls during lunch breaks and staff meetings
Create an Inclusive, Communicative Website
Is it easy to find your office? How much would it benefit the patient experience and improve your dental practice if your website included easy-to-read parking instructions?
Do you have a portal where your patients can confirm their appointment schedule? Can you digitize any post-op instructions that are common for your practice?
Even if the information you provide on the site is repetitive: Say it anyway. Posting answers to common patient questions could reduce incoming calls to the office or check-in time at the desk on the day of the appointment.
Waiting Room Perks Reduce Patient Anxiety
Let’s say there’s a busy mom who is sitting in your waiting room waiting for her child who is getting their first filling. She’s likely pretty anxious and distracted. How can you make her as comfortable as possible?
If you address the needs of all the patients in the waiting room, especially if they’re parents, they will look forward to coming into the office. Consider providing:
- Free wifi
- Coffee and water
- A play center or toys for small children
- Magazines and newspapers
Your waiting room is easily one of the most important steps in the intake process. The more you provide a relaxing and stress-free environment, especially for busy parents, the more those people are likely to return, bring their children, and refer new business to you.
Automate Pre-Op and Pre-Treatment Digital Communication
For you and your staff, even the most invasive oral treatment is just another day at the office. For your patients, though, remember that routine treatments can be overwhelming and even scary at times. Providing information upfront in a timely and convenient way will give patients a more seamless experience when they arrive for the treatment itself.
Provide crucial information about the procedure and what to expect, including post-treatment protocols (antibiotics, discomfort, healing times, etc.) in a proactive and timely fashion as often as possible. The more information you provide upfront, the easier it is for your front desk staff to engage with patients. Questions like “Did you receive and read the post-treatment instructions?” or “Did you have any questions about the information we sent?” speed up the process for most people.
When you answer and address most patient concerns about a big treatment or oral surgery, the less likely they are to ask those questions right before the treatment. Of course, it’s a given that their concerns need to be addressed during every step of the process.
Email templates, automated mailings, and text messaging are all faster and more cost-effective than one-on-one calls to patients for every procedure. Emailing and texting also give you an opportunity to provide details about new advancements in the industry and cutting-edge procedures you offer.
Provide Transparency Whenever Possible
Some days, despite everyone’s best intentions and efforts, you run behind schedule. On those days, clear and honest communication is your best option. Simply let patients know that the wait time is a bit longer than normal. The more information they have while they wait, the less likely they are to get frustrated or impatient.
Patients are also sensitive to staffing changes. If a partner or treatment provider suddenly leaves, that can be unsettling. People like familiar faces, so when a member of your staff who had a lot of patient interaction suddenly leaves, there’s nothing wrong with giving some of your patients a heads-up via email or on the website.
How does this relate to patient intake? If staffing changes create longer wait times or cause a sudden disruption in service, the more your staff is prepared to address those issues in person, the less it will impact the in-office experience.
Training for a dental profession doesn’t necessarily prepare you to be an effective office manager. It’s also completely understandable that even if you have the skills and knowledge to manage the business aspects of your office, your focus should be on your patients and the care you deliver to them.
A qualified DSO helps you implement cost-effective solutions for the day-to-day oversight of your business. Contact us today to discuss how our IT, HR, marketing, and development programs can assist you in bringing your business to the next level.