In the past, your dental practice’s patient experience may have looked like this: Your office called to remind patients about upcoming appointments, had a written waitlist to fill spots for last-minute cancellations, and booked appointments exclusively over the phone.

In 2022, it’s time to put down the pencil and half your phone usage. The patient experience of the future exists online and centers on consumers’ convenience by letting them schedule and contact practices on their own time.

You might be wondering, why is this sudden push for a customer-centric, digital approach happening now? There are several reasons, but the biggest one, as you might have guessed, is the pandemic. It’s caused a major disruption to healthcare, with both practices and patients having to adapt to public health concerns and a staffing shortage.

With so many changes for people and their habits, dentist offices must act to meet patients’ evolving needs and expectations. Below, we’ve called out a few trends we’ve observed, based on our report, The State of Dental 2022. If you want to read more, download it here.

Telehealth is changing how people think about healthcare

Dentists generally have fewer opportunities than other specialties to utilize telehealth because of the nature of their services (you can have a therapy session with someone over Zoom, but it doesn’t work as well for filling cavities). But it’s important to recognize that dentistry is just one slice of a patient’s overall healthcare experience. Patients can and do see primary care physicians, dermatologists, and mental health providers virtually. And those digital appointments are resetting their expectations for healthcare across the board.

“Over the course of COVID-19, [patients] have become accustomed to conducting all of their appointments online, and they don’t have the time, patience or desire to go back to the traditional way,” according to Dr. David Berg, co-founder of Redirect Health, a national organization that pioneers mobile and telehealth.

With the changes comes a heightened push to offer more convenient options for patients, like filling out forms online in advance to avoid waiting times.

“The pandemic will become an inflection point in history where healthcare, notably the urgent care market, shifted to an enhanced patient-centered model of care that catered to rapidly changing patient preferences and consumer habits in the same way e-commerce, transportation, and other industries have done previously,” according to Tim Dybvig, SVP of Patient Experience at Experity, a technology solution provider for telehealth-centered practices.

Patients are on the move

The pandemic and increased remote work have caused people to move all over the country. Those people are shopping for new dentists.

Poll results show 29% of Americans relocated since COVID-19 or plan to — more than three times the volume prior to the pandemic. And relocations to midsize and small metro areas from big cities rose 23%, according to the Wall Street Journal.

This population shift means practices can no longer solely rely on the patient base they’ve had for a long time. They must court the new patients and appeal to them as consumers.

Patients shop for care online

Your practice likely has a presence on one if not more social media platforms, plus Google Business and Yelp. And you can be sure that when people are shopping for a new dentist, they’ll first visit a practice’s website and check out reviews from other patients.

Online conversations and communities have a strong influence on younger consumers, according to the healthcare marketing agency Healthcare Success, especially when it comes to making health decisions.

This highlights why it’s important to maintain an engaged presence on these platforms and why you should encourage patients to leave reviews. New patients will do their research online before booking an appointment, so it’s crucial to maintain a positive image of your practice.

Now is the time to make your move to improve patient experience

Modernizing your practice has become an urgent priority. This means implementing technology to improve the patient-provider relationship, such as online scheduling, instant messaging, and text or email appointment reminders. To learn more about how to pick the right platform for your practice, download our report, The State of Dental 2022.

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