Many dentists and practice owners consider themselves exactly that – dentists and practice owners. But when wearing those hats, you’re also a business owner. If you’re not running your practice like a business, you’re likely not taking advantage of valuable tools and processes that can increase your revenue, streamline your processes, and improve your customer experience.
One such tool is implementing digital communication within your practice. In this post, I dive into why this is so beneficial to dental practices specifically and why it’s worth the investment.
The Post-itⓇ Note era
I’ve been hanging around and being a nuisance in my dad’s practice, East Midlands Orthodontics, since I was a baby. That’s a long time! So I’ve seen the evolution of how people communicate within a practice, all the way from those manning the reception desks up to the principle practitioner.
As a kid, I used to love playing on my dad’s office typewriter. Yes – office typewriter! All of the communication in those days was done via paper. When I came back to the practice as a teenager to help out on reception, the holy grail of communication had graduated to the humble Post-it Note. Post-its were the go-to tool for any kind of written communication between the staff and the practice owner, with receptionists even scribbling notes about patients that rang up on the phone!
Not the most ideal approach.
Not just an inside job
It is vital that a practice has methods of organisation, data protection, effective communication, historical records, and patient tracking. To name a few! And I don’t mean an envelope stuffed with old Post-it Notes.
Not only was none of this information going into any sort of database, but often these hastily-scribbled notes wouldn’t contain all the information needed – and worse, would get lost, with no copies or backups available.
For example, imagine a private patient rings up and enquires about a procedure with an imagined value of thousands of pounds – and the only record of this call is a note scribbled on a Post-it and stuck to a monitor. There’s no lasting or detailed record of what the next steps are, where in the process the client is, and no automated follow-up to keep the client engaged.
That’s the thing with digital communication and how crucial it truly is – its benefits are far wider reaching than the immediate exchange of information inhouse. Many digital communication programmes such as Slack (more on this later) offer integration with other tools and software (such as CalendlyⓇ, monday.com™, Keap, Mailchimp, etc) to achieve automated and efficient business processes overall.
For example, digital communication for your practice could also include:
- Appointment reminders (texts, calls, and emails)
- Blog posts or emails containing dental tips, tricks, and useful knowledge
- Product advertisements
- Requests for feedback
When I started working at East Midlands Orthodontics full-time some ten years ago, it hadn’t changed much from my days helping out as a teen! The only difference was that I now had a wealth of experience within the corporate environment, having worked in different offices all around the world.
I had seen first-hand just how important, easy, and beneficial it was to move to digital communications and processes, and I was determined to implement it into our family practice. But how?
Out with the old
Modernising a dental practice and getting your business out of the ‘80s isn’t as overwhelming a job as you might think.
The first thing I suggest – and, indeed, the first step I took myself here at East Midlands Orthodontics – is to get an email provider and set up each member of staff with an account, as well as offering some basic training on email communication.
When I started to look into growing a list of referring dentists, I would search on Google for every dentist in my area so that I could contact them. Again and again I was finding that a lot of practices didn’t have a website, or even an email address! It’s surprising how many practices out there haven’t modernised and still operate with the old-fashioned mindset that follows a process like this: the patient turns up at the practice, they are treated, and that’s that!
It’s worth the investment
If you’re familiar at all with the dental industry, you’ll likely know that dentists are a frugal bunch. They don’t tend to see the point of investing in things like an email account.
But the major benefit of digital communication like email, Slack, or Teams, is that fast exchange of information, and being able to reach all team members instantly, means that the patient is moved through the practice, through the patient journey, and through the workflow efficiently and smoothly.
During the pandemic, it became even more evident how many practices are still living in what we can call the Post-it Note era. For me, the world moving online highlighted how little professionals within the dental industry have invested in simple infrastructure in their practices, especially relating to project management software. Many dentists hadn’t even heard of programmes like Asana or monday.com which are great for having a centralised place for all the team to monitor what’s going on.
It’s great to have fun, but boundaries are important
It’s been a real process of trial and error for us – trust me, we’ve tried it all! It’s really important to be able to have a laugh and break up the seriousness of how busy the day is by having a bit of fun in the messenger. Posting team shout-outs is also a great way to boost morale and foster positive working relationships, encouraging a “team effort” approach.
We found that messaging services like WhatsApp can be a great tool for instant communication; however there is a risk with platforms of this kind that messaging could turn into something that isn’t work focused or bleeds into out-of-hours. This isn’t great for work-life separation and can have negative effects in the long term such as increasing burnout and stress.
So where to start?
The good news is that there are great tools available. If you’re not ready to commit to paid options such as Google Business Chat or Microsoft Business Teams, you can download software such as Slack for free.
Slack is set up for business, so there’s no risk of personal messages distracting your team. It allows you to message within the team and share files, videos, and voice notes. You can segment the team into different groups – for example, you could have a channel called “Private” made up of all team members involved with private patients. This ensures that team members aren’t being bombarded and confused with notifications not meant for them. The chats are safe and encrypted, so sensitive information can be shared between clinicians without risk.
You always want to be looking for an easy-to-use system because you don’t want to overburden your team with anything overly complex. Everybody on the team needs to be able to use it – not just the tech wizards!
The process of moving onto digital communications had massively positive effects across the whole practice and our communications in general. As a business we grew significantly through the pandemic because, in adopting a system like digital communication, we had all the team invested. Their attention was focused on these platforms and they were following the processes put in place.
You can see it correlating to the growth of the business in every aspect because we’re being efficient with our time – we’re Being Productive!