How to Offer Online Appointments for Your Dental Office Properly
Scheduling appointments in a dental office is not a straightforward task. Finding the right time that works for the patient while allocating enough time to the appointment itself makes it difficult for dental offices to use and depend on the services that offer online booking. In this article, we review the benefits of offering online appointments while providing specific guidelines and tools that can be used by dental offices to properly implement such features for patients.
Even though new and existing patients can theoretically book their appointments online (for the first visit, recall or treatment), this article focuses on offering online appointments to new patients for their first visit at this point. We will discuss other types of online appointments in a different article.
Offering Online Appointments to Dental Patients
There are many dental offices that require new patients to call the office to make an appointment. The process is manual for good reasons as the receptionists can take patients’ information on the phone, create a personal connection by talking to the patient, check the schedule and choose the right time (both for the office and the patient) for the appointment. However, offering appointments to patients over the phone only has some major shortcomings in this day and age that can outweigh its benefits.
Not Patient Friendly
Due to changes in behavior, particularly with younger demographics, making phone calls is becoming less and less popular; that’s why an office that offers online appointments, will almost certainly get more patients than an office that requires patients to call (given similar marketing budgets).
Difficult to Track
Being able to track how the new patients find an office is extremely important for optimizing marketing campaigns and finances. Just asking patients “how they found the office” is just not enough. As an example, when a patient responds that “I found you on Google”, it doesn’t provide enough information; did they find the office through an organic google search or an Ad-word campaign? If it was an Ad-word campaign, which campaign was it? These are simply pieces of information that a patient doesn’t know that are detrimental to the business to know the answer to.
In addition to inadequate tracking information, the online ad platforms (like Google and Facebook) require this information to be fed to them so that they can in turn optimize an office’s ad campaigns. Without these optimizations, marketing campaigns can run an office thousands of dollars without producing any meaningful results.
Difficult to Optimize
Knowing how to move around the office schedule to open up availabilities for new patients is a skill that only great receptionists and office managers have. This is not a trivial task and requires a lot of time and experience.
Can only Happen During Business Hours
Dental offices that require patients to call them (or offer to call them back) can only do this during business hour. That is a big limiting factor for patients who are looking to book an appointment at any time or any day.
Ways to Offer Online Appointments to Dental Patients
Although it’s possible to offer online appointments by just having a business listing on sites like Yelp or Google Business, it’s strongly recommended that dental practices have their own website. How to have a usable website for patients is quite important as well but is outside the scope of this article. We will cover this topic in a different article.
There are multiple ways for dental practices to offer online appointments:
Request an Appointment Form
The easiest and probably the least effective way for offering online appointments is to have a “request an appointment” form on your website. This feature can be easily implemented into a website and doesn’t require any integration with the practice management software. Patients simply request a time that works for them, provide their information and wait for a confirmation from the office staff, typically in the form of email or call.
Although this approach allows patients to request appointments outside of the business hours but due to its shortcomings, it’s not an effective or efficient way of offering appointments. At the end of the day, the office should call the requestor in this method to offer alternative times if the requested time does not work for the practice and ask for more information as well. Also, as the confirmation is not immediate, many patients may still look for other alternatives because they are not sure if they can actually get the time that works for them.
Having this request on the website, is better than not offering online appointments at all but not by much.
Using Third Party Services
There are third party services that can be used to add online booking feature to your website. Many of them connect with your practice management software to show actual availabilities to your website visitors. This feature is very important because it takes away the guesswork from the patient. They know if a certain time-slot is available while visiting your website and they can book it without having to wait for the office to get back to them.
Having said that, there is an important flaw in almost all of these third party services. These services have a simplistic way of finding availabilities for patients. They simply look for an open time-slot for a specific provider (based on the existing appointments) and offer it to patients. However, as anyone with experience of working in a dental office can tell you, that’s not how actual appointments work in a dental setting. For example, if an appointment is starting at 9, it doesn’t mean that the patient sees the doctor at 9. The flow in most dental offices is that a new patient usually sees an assistant initially to prep the patient. Then the doctor will do the examination and then, depending on the office policy, the patient may be getting a cleaning from a hygienist (or the doctor). However, most of these third party services do not consider this flow with the complexity which causes conflicting appointments or non-efficient use of dentist’s time.
2Dental, made by a group of dentists and engineers, addresses this issue. 2Dental integrates with any practice management solution to offer real appointments to patients. It supports dental-specific patient flows as well as the more traditional ways of showing availabilities. 2Dental maximizes the utilization of dentist’s time in the office and avoids conflicts by considering how the first visit actually happens in real life.
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