Do you use your personal mobile device when communicating with patients? According to national statistics, 80% of medical professionals do. If you’re texting with patients, however, there is significant risk of running afoul of HIPAA regulations unless you are texting in a secure and compliant manner.
And if you’re not considering a secure texting platform, you should. A few years ago in my practice, I was surprised to find that patients were texting with staff, mostly about appointments. It was then that I realized we could communicate with patients beyond setting up and reminding them of appointments, which is why I started looking for a unified communications platform that included social media and texting.
Think about the demographics of your practice. My practice is 65% kids whose parents are Millennials, those born roughly between 1977 and 1995. Among my adult patients, the huge majority are in the same age group. Younger Millennials, especially, grew up with smartphones in their hands and are more comfortable with texting. In fact, it’s how most prefer to communicate.
Simple (SMS) texts are opened 99% of the time, often within three minutes of receipt. Emails sent by medical professionals, including dentists, have an open rate of under 23%. Texting is a much easier and more successful way of receiving a simple and quick response from your patients verses trying to voice call them.
I pride myself on delivering a superior customer service experience every time, but I became aware in early 2014 that some of the workflows in my practice had begun to break down, mainly as it pertained to patient communications:
- Staff often got up while working with a patient, fiddled with the practice management system and resumed work. I discovered that they were receiving texts and changing appointments for other patients. So I asked at a staff meeting how many people were texting with patients, who also were friends, about practice matters. Every hand went in the air.
- At the time, we were using a text-based appointment reminder system that could not accept incoming texts. Our protocol is to call any patient who is 15 minutes late for an appointment. Increasingly, we were discovering that the patient had responded to the reminder that they were running late or needed to reschedule, which the system did not allow so the message went unread. When I asked staff how often this happened, the response was all the time.
- Facebook had, unbeknownst to me, added a messaging link to our newly created practice page. Patients were using the messaging feature to ask us questions that were going unanswered. So much for superior customer service.
How many of these scenarios ring true in your practice? It was obvious that patients wanted to communicate with us in ways we hadn’t anticipated. That’s why I started searching for a secure, unified messaging platform, and, not finding one that worked the way I needed it to, developed my own. For me, this included the development of a webform widget so patients can easily text directly to the office right from my website’s homepage.
Fortunately, there are telehealth platforms today that create zero barriers between the patient and the provider, so that the patients can simply communicate with their provider where they currently live and how they prefer. They offer text enabling your existing land line number, allowing patients the ability to call or TEXT them. In addition, they allow social media messaging and provide a website widget so that patients can communicate directly with you no matter if the patient is on your social media business page or your website.
Patients increasingly are becoming more invested in their health, which is fueling a rise in telehealth options, including teledentistry. Three-quarters of people 18-34 are interested in telehealth, while 70% of those between 35-44 expressed an interest. Nearly two-thirds of people between 45-64 also were interested.
Make sure that any communications platform also includes telehealth options to optimize practice operations for today—and for tomorrow.
Dr. Keith Dressler has been a practicing orthodontist for more than 30 years. He is Chairman and CEO of Rhinogram and currently serves on the advisory board of the American Teledentistry Association.