I had some really good feedback on my recent blog post about online booking systems for dentistry. I therefore decided to put an open letter out there to any of these companies allowing them to respond and review their own products. I asked 4 specific questions of these companies regarding the concerns that I have, here are those responses (From Appointmentor, Toothpick & Denticon) exactly as these companies replied to me.
Just to note that I have VERY specific concerns, not about online booking as a concept, but about it’s current implementation – the concerns I have are:
Does the person booking stay on the practice website, if not why not
I do not like the idea of working hard to get a person to your website then loosing them off your site to book. I would like to see FULL and seamless integration in to your website.
Do you run a searchable directory that allows people to book with competitors & If you do run a searchable database how do you stop patients booking with competitors instead
I do not want to be promoting what could essentially be a directory of competitor companies. If you loose a web visitor to an online booking company website then that person has the ability to book with another practice.
How do we add the ‘booker’ to an automated email system which thanks them for their booking and adds them to an ongoing email list?
Every time a person interacts with your practice it is an opportunity to motivate and inspire them to refer you to their friends. I want to see automated branded follow up emails to online bookings with social sharing functionality AND patients added to an ongoing communication campaign e.g. Thank you for coming to see us etc – think Amazon!
Is there a requirement to place a link from the practice website to yours? If so why?
I do not like the idea of placing a link from YOUR website to the booking company, this will tell Google that their website is more important than yours and could end up with them outranking you in the search results… if they also work as a directory that is a double negative for you!
And so.. on to the responses, in no particular order…
1. Does the person booking stay on the practice website, if not why not?
There is an option for the person to stay on the practice website and we have used this for certain clinics who use the booking this way . Its can slow down the booking experience and is challenging to deploy for some websites due to the variation in design and technology that practices use. Mobile websites for dental practices are in their infancy and most practice websites are not mobile friendly. These are the real challenges of today world.
It’s worth noting that over 50% of UK dentists do not have a GDC compliant website.
Managing and updating a practice website is a service that web developers certainly do and we work with the major suppliers to ensure both the practice gets the most out of online bookings and new patient acquisition.
In fairness Mark ,you have actually inserted the booking link to practices across the UK. They have seen an uplift on new patients and are really behind Toothpick.
[Ed:I have indeed placed these links upon request of the dental practices]
2. Do you run a searchable directory that allows people to book with competitors?
Toothpick is aiming to address the concerns the OFT have raised last year , largely that patients have little idea of what dental services are available to them. 50% of the UK population do not regularly attend the dentist and over 10% in emergencies only. Our A and E departments are at bursting point and 111 the new telephone service for non emergency health related matters are unable to manage demand. We have a terrible reputation globally for poor dental health and are the butt of jokes for most Americans. This is unacceptable in 2013. Toothpick has a huge challenge in making it easy to locate and book a dentist as currently it can be very difficult for patients ue to the constraints and limitations of the current system. Zocdoc launched the same service in the USA 4 years ago and had the same initial concerns within the market fighting ultimately what people expect from a modern consumer market . To be able to make an informed choice about who they see for the dental health.
These services are available in Most of Europe , why should the UK be any different We launched Toothpick.com 6 months ago and no have almost 2000 practitioner live. We have ambassadors from fully NHS to fully Private practices. 50-100 dentists are joining Toothpick a week and bookings are growing exponentially, with almost 50% when the practice is closed. They would happily speak to you about the positive impact its had on their business if required.
You would not consider booking a 2 day stay in a hotel now without seeing pictures of the hotel , reviews from trip advisor . So why should finding a dentist be any different ?
3. If you do run a searchable database how do you stop patients booking with competitors instead?
Absolutely – if a patient finds a practice website and are willing to book an appointment , they are directed to the booking pages of that practice and cant search elsewhere so there is nothing to worry about.
4. How do we add the ‘booker’ to an automated email system which thanks them for their booking and adds them to an ongoing email list?
Automatic email confirmations are sent to the patient with links to the practice website etc
If the patient opts in to receive more information from the practice , consent should be sought in the first instance and then managed either through a mailing company or via the practice management software , its really simple
5. Is there a requirement to place a link from the practice website to yours? If so why?
No , see the rationale answer to question 1
Appoint Now ! Denticon and online dental appointments
Denticloud is the agent in Ireland and the UK for the localised version of the PlanetDDS cloudbased dental practice management program , Denticon .
Denticon is a powerful practice management program and allows patients to book directly online through Appoint Now !
The AppointNow ! application is available free of charge to Denticloud clients who use Denticon as their practice management program .
Appoint Now ! allows the practice to place an online booking request button on the practice website or Facebook page .
Online booking process using Appoint Now !
The patient stays on the practice website after clicking on the online appointment request button , and can book an appointment directly from the website . This appointment is then automatically entered in the Denticon schedule .
When the appointment is made , a confirmation email , with directions to the practice is sent to the patient.
The practice also receives an email informing them that a patient has made an online booking . This gives the receptionist an opportunity to call the patient ,confirm the booking, and introduce the practice to the patient .
Online Patient registration
The patient is also directed to the practice online registration area on the website ,and this allows the patient to fill out their medical history and Dental /Smile analysis questionnaire in the comfort of their own home .
This serves two purposes , the first being that it saves time for both the patient and the practice at the first visit & secondly , allows the practice to preview the patient profile before the visit and use the information to ensure the patient experiences a great patient journey . On arrival the patient signs the medical history using a signature pad attached to a tablet or computer at reception and is then ready to be seen by the dentist. .
Advantages of an online booking system that integrates fully into the practice diary .
There are a number of advantages to having the online booking integrated into the practice management software and linked directly to the software diary , including keeping the patient within the practice website during the online booking process.
However , with AppointNow ! , the huge advantage is the integration with the hugely powerful Denticon diary . The diary is a key component to successfully managing and maximising your practice.
The Denticon diary allows
1) Templating of the diary to schedule procedures at particular times , to ensure efficient use of the dentists time by booking highly productive treatments at the start of the day when the dentist is performing well . This also means that the practice knows that production targets can be reached early in the day , and other less productive items can be booked for later in the day.
2) Templating also makes it easier for the receptionist to book the schedule properly , as the receptionist can use the find a slot by production type , and the system will find the next slot available for endodontics , or whatever production type is specified .
3) Templating also allows for sharing of high end equipment between surgeries , by templating certain times for its use on the schedule in each surgery .
4) The appointment slot itself can also be templated to allow the dentist to maximise his chairside time. A forty minute appointment can be divided into:
- a) a ten minute slot to administer local anaesthesia ,
- b) a second ten minute slot where
- the dentist is free to leave the surgery and check on a hygiene patient , and
- c) a twenty minute slot to complete the procedure during which time the dentist isrequired to stay in the surgery for all of that time .
5) The appointment slot expands on the diary screen to give full details of the patient , the treatment planned for that visit and the value of that treatment .
6) The production view of the diary will show the total value of all the appointment s . This helps staff to learn how to reach targets and how to book effectively to reach those targets
7 ) Each appointment slot also allows the practice to track the patients journey through the practice . Prior to the appointment the patient can be marked as confirmed or unconfirmed depending on contact with the patient .
Once arrived , the patient can be marked as in reception , in the surgery or checked out .
8) The appointment slot can also be marked as a missed or cancelled appointment .This is logged by the system and allows for reports to be generated on missed and cancelled appointments and for follow up on those patients .
9) Patient recalls are also generated from the appointment diary
10) Lab work can also be tracked using the Denticon diary .
Denticon with AppintNow ! allows a dental practice to offer online bookings without taking the patient to another website , and to continue to use the powerful management tools offered by the software
Let me be the first to say that all the points you have raised are valid. However there is another party to this equation – the patient, the ultimate customer.
We live the Internet Age. The Internet brings about great empowerment and choice. Today the nearest competition is just a Google search away. We cannot assume that by not providing online booking or any other services that the patients are seeking, the patients wouldn’t go to Google and find out someone else who provides facilities and services in a better manner. Similarly, years ago, conversations about products and services used to happen on the company’s own forums and websites. Now these discussions happen on Facebook, on twitter, out there in the open world. The Internet is here, the Social Media is here, and they are here to stay. The most sensible approach now, perhaps, is to embrace the change and make the best use of the opportunities it presents.
Today people do want to have interactive engagements, they want instant gratification with immediate results. They like to have choices and options. People want flexibility and convenience. They really want to know that as customers they are being taken care of in the best possible way.
Health industry is where the ‘Financial industry’ was 20 years ago. Customers would go into the banks to the counters to find out how much they have in their account (the tellers would read out information from a screen to the customers- it was an inefficient mechanism as customers could very well read the information themselves). Hardly anybody does that any more, we go to the ‘hole in the wall’, i.e. the ATM or check information online on our PCs, Laptops, and increasingly, on the mobile devices.
Healthcare is now moving in that direction too. Dental practices that provide online booking have more visibility on the Internet, can be perceived as more accessible (open for business), and, by enabling and empowering the patients, giving them the choices and options, would be seen as taking ‘the patient first‘ approach- for example, If I was going to London for a week-long conference or course, and needed an appointment urgently in out-of-hours situation, the practice that gets my business is the one that allows me to book immediately giving me the peace of mind that I have a confirmed appointment at my convenience with the dentist.
The Email notification forms that initiate a request for appointment from a web page lack this facility (request for an appointment made on Friday evening is usually seen/responded to on Monday morning- that’s simply too long!). The patient can not see the availability and choices in real time. Also, the practice responding to the patient’s email request (from direct email to their address listed on their website or via a form filled at the website – essentially it is the same as leaving a recording voice message on the practice answering machine) cannot provide a confirmed appointment until someone has attended to the communication in the morning. There may not be a slot available by then (or at a suitable time for the patient’s requirement), the patients may have to endure pain or discomfort. They may choose to search and find somewhere else on the Internet. Herein, therefore, lies the problem for dental practices, our clients and yours…
Google has all the practices in the area already listed and available with their phone numbers, as well as their email addresses. Facebook and twitter allow people to comment on the services independently and freely, there is no central control over the chatter. These resources are very accessible and available within a few clicks. . But then, herein also lies the opportunity…. to come clean, to be authentic, to be transparent and to be a contributor with the patients in their journey for optimal oral and dental health, to be a valued partner in their wellness and well-being (see the link here, why we chose the name Welltime for our company 😉 )
So let’s now discuss how we can create a ‘win-win’ situation, let us review the 3 key concerns you have raised:
1. The patient journey on your website could be compromised?
The solution: allow practice branding. Allow the patients to have the consistency of experience through same look and feel during their engagement (AppointMentor actually allows that).
This assumes that the patients are already at the practice website. If they are, then the appointment management system most suitable for the practice is the one that works from the practice’s own website, allowing both new and existing patients to book appointments (ours does :)).
However, there is an important general point to be made here. By the time patient has clicked on the ‘I want to book an appointment right now’ button (we just call it ‘Book Now’ for short), they have probably read about the treatments, about the dental team, the testimonials, the fees if any; and have made up their mind. They are now entering a funnel with one task on their mind: To book an appointment as quickly, and as hassle free, as possible. Any good appointment management system would recognize this aspect and automatically remove all distractions, all non-essentials from the process of achieving this task at hand (e.g. if main website has flash or animations or lots of navigation information, once patient has started the booking process, good Online Appointments Management Systems would allow the patients to focus and successfully complete their task, quickly and efficiently). We, for example, put in the colour themes and logos of the practice in the booking pages, but then keep the process focussed on the completion of appointment booking and achieving the results.
The point about booking to happen totally from the practice own websites (i.e. where the patients do not leave the site) is possible using iFrames technology which runs appointment booking process from within the practice own website and web pages. The reasons for the normal re-directing to a central booking application are purely economical- most practices would probably not have the in-house IT resources/ skills to run a secure web server; having a facility made available in this manner keeps costs down for everyone while enabling a useful service for patients.
2. We lose the ability to enhance the patient journey after booking?
The solution: allow practices to have automatic customized branded communications after the appointment with patients.
A good CRM system would allow sending branded, customizable letters / confirmation emails to the patients ensuring consistency of patient journey (PatientConnections, our CRM system does it- but what’s more, because it is fully integrated with the Online Appointments Booking system, it does it automatically, since the system knows which patients came to the practice for appointments on that day).
Solutions like this enable better compliance with CQC by sending automated patient feedback survey to the patients- it is generally a good practice anyway for businesses to ask customers what can be done better and what services can be improved. PatientConnections has an extra value added proposition that includes relevant educational articles and special offers from the practice, enabling customer education, up-selling and cross selling facilities.
Finally, feed backs received back from patients (with their consent) automatically are uploaded back on to the practice website, creating fresh testimonials that are useful targeted content for search engines, helping with the SEO process. Plus, if patients already have Google account, our system suggests to them (and makes it easy for them) to post a review in Google Local Reviews, making the practice profile higher and more visible on Google searches; as well as allowing them to easily post positive reviews on FaceBook and Twitter, creating a free viral marketing effect facilitating in attracting new customers.
3. You may inadvertently end up promoting your competitor dental practice.
The existing patients would more likely come to your website directly (or even through Google since their search would include the practice name). Enabling them to book online is a smart decision as it directly facilitates them. The new patients, however, are searching in generic terms for treatments provided in a given area. For that, Google already has it: the competitor’s websites listed on the same page as yours. That is where the battle for SEO with a lot of money and effort being spent is taking place. Having spent that much amount of effort and money on getting the patient to the practice website, it makes logical sense to have essential mechanisms to engage them; make it easy for them to register and book, to pay online and to get a confirmation of the appointments (if, as a practice, we have a customer, shouldn’t we be doing everything possible to retain that customer and avoid circumstances where they go searching on the Internet for other alternatives?).
In the end, it’s not about online booking or offline booking, but making sure that our customer’s customer, the patients, win by making their life easier, by enabling them, by providing them choices with ‘top notch’ service).
And our customer wins because more patients come to the practice that has greater visibility and ‘open for business’ / ‘ready and willing to help you’ approach, more patients pay online hence reducing paperwork and FTAs, and reducing the gaps/white spaces in the appointment diary- thereby generating income for the practice through a pragmatic patient-oriented fantastic service.
An important contribution of Online Booking and CRM systems should be in helping the practice staff, the receptionists and practice managers, to cope with the stress of dealing with patients, who might be in discomfort and frustrated because the phone lines are always engaged – or because after 6 pm they can not interact / engage with the practices (I am constantly told by customers who have AppointMentor Online booking system, how relieved they are as now they are able to cope with the 8:30- 9:30 am mad call rush in the mornings….’ Receptionist now have more free time to focus on the patients who are in the practice hence improving quality of services and overall patient experience. They also have an ability to help patients with the continued touch points with through automated feedbacks and follow up communications that helps them with maintaining patient relationships without any additional manual labour).
Online Booking also facilitates tracking of referrals (has the customer come from Google, Newspaper ad, the leafleting activity, or Word of Mouth, i.e. where should your marketing dollars and pounds be spent for more effective marketing). For a lot of practices, the Monthly Recalls are an important source of stable revenue – Auto Recall facility helps automatically send the patients with a Recall link unique to them, the patients can click the link on their smart phone or email, and be taken to a booking page directly ensuring recalls are booked effectively (it saves money and time on postage costs and stationary/printing and posting activities).
My honest belief is that it is a smart and clever business decision to promote your business to existing and new customers through these innovative solutions, using their strengths (for example allowing patients to provide feedback that comes straight to your website, automatically, without a hassle), attracting new patients and facilitating existing ones. I believe practices would win by using these technologies and solutions and will have long term sustainability and business profitability – by focusing on enabling and providing awesome, fandoobytastic, unparalleled service to the patients.
Just my $0.02