Like all businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic, East Midlands Orthodontics had to adapt to survive. With staff and patients forced to stay at home, our usual ways of working were impossible to sustain, and we had to scramble to find new ways to maintain the highest standard of care and support.
It was a real challenge, but adversity can be a great teacher, and since things have opened up again we’ve been able to apply the lessons we learned during lockdown to make the practice stronger than ever. In this blog, I’m going to explain how one innovation we were forced to adopt during the pandemic allowed us to accelerate our growth in the long run.
The beginning of the pandemic came as a shock to the system. As well as shutting off the flow of new business, lockdown left many of our patients stuck at home in the middle of their treatment process. Unable to offer in-person check-ups, we needed to find some way to monitor how they were getting on with their braces or aligners, and to offer informed support if required.
Fortunately, a company called Dental Monitoring quickly stepped up to the plate, releasing a program called SmileMate. This software allowed patients to take photographs of their mouth and teeth on their own devices then send them off to the practice, so that clinicians could check in on the progress, provide advice and reassurance and update treatment plans ready for when restrictions were lifted.
Finding our own solution
We adopted SmileMate immediately, as did many other practices. At the time, no alternatives were available, and the program executed its core function perfectly well. However, as the practice became increasingly dependent on this software, problems started to emerge.
The main issue was that SmileMate did not integrate with any of the other programs we use to run our practice. There was no quick and easy way to link them to patient records, which meant that managing the images, circulating them to clinicians and moving them between different software platforms created a heap of extra admin work. What should have been a timesaver turned into a real headache for our nurses and reception team.
Fortunately, one of the plus sides of the pandemic was that I had more time to work on improving our internal systems. With tinkering, I found that I was able to create my own photo uploader program, which we called Smile Viewer. Crucially, I built this system with an open API, which allows it to integrate directly with the other programs we use, such as our practice management software and CRM.
How it works
Smile Viewer is a fast, simple solution that doesn’t require the patient to download or install anything to their device. Instead, they receive a URL by text or email which takes them to a dedicated web page containing a step-by-step tutorial explaining everything they need to know to take the photos – how many images, from what angles, how to set up their lighting, how to fully expose their teeth, and more.
Once the patient has taken their photos and pressed the submit button, the images are sent instantly to our practice management software, where they become part of an automatically generated patient record, alongside their name, date of birth, address, contact details and marketing information. This requires no manual data input on our end whatsoever, saving us literally hundreds of admin hours over the course of a year.
What are the benefits?
Using Smile Viewer costs our practice around £50 a month, as opposed to the £300 we would be paying for SmileMate or an equivalent external program. But this simple cost saving is just the tip of the iceberg. Using our own photo uploader has allowed us to make changes to our marketing process and clinical workflows that have created efficiencies and revenue increases worth many thousands.
By creating a tool with syncs directly with our practice management system, we’ve massively cut down on the amount of admin required of our staff. Images are directly connected to patient records and can be directly accessed by clinicians whenever they need them, freeing our nurses and reception team to focus on high-impact tasks that elevate our standard of patient care and contribute to the growth of the practice.
Smile Viewer has also become an essential part of our sales process. When a prospective patient first inquires about treatment, we send them a link to upload photos, so before they’ve even set foot in the practice we can assess their suitability for treatment, make recommendations and provide an accurate estimated quote for our services.
This allows us to build engagement with potential patients much earlier in the process, whilst triaging out unsuitable candidates before we’ve spent too much time or clinical resources on them, making our sales process much more efficient. Along with our investment in digital advertising, Smile Viewer contributed to a £60,000 increase in revenues during the first six months we used it.
We also use Smile Viewer to keep up with existing patients. If the photos indicate that their treatment is progressing well, we can postpone their next in-person check-up until the next time. This saves us hours of chair time every week, allowing our practitioners to concentrate on clinically impactful procedures over routine exams and check-ups.
Other practices have started to invest in AI systems to automatically monitor the progress of their patients’ treatment, but we’ve found that since we have Smile Viewer, we don’t need to go that far. Since our clinicians have quick, frictionless access to patient photos, they can simply use their experience and expertise to understand our patients’ needs at a glance.
Our patients upload hundreds of photos using Smile Viewer every month. Each time they do, it saves the practice hours of both clinical and admin time. As is often the case with new systems, some of my staff were a little sceptical when we first brought it in, but now the software’s fully embedded in our workflow they can all see the benefits and they all swear they’d never go back to the old way. As a manager, there’s no sweeter feeling!
Using a photo uploader like Smile Viewer is just one way to create a more efficient and scalable orthodontic practice. For more practical advice on how you can create a dental business ready to survive and thrive in the 21st century, subscribe to my mailing list to receive a new blog every week.