User experience designers are obsessed with “removing friction” when they’re building online experiences for people.
Friction removal is an essential part of creating a smooth, barrier-free journey to accomplishing a specific task.
For dental practices and healthcare providers, the best way to remove friction for patients is to adopt an online booking system.
Phone calls during business hours are “friction points” because they require patients to take time out of their own work day to make a phone call and book an appointment.
Nearly 3 out of 4 patients book appointments during off hours. An online booking system is no longer a “nice to have” – it’s a low-hanging opportunity to grow your dental practice through convenience and better patient experience.
What is an online booking system for healthcare providers?
An online booking system for healthcare providers is a HIPAA-compliant software solution that plugs into your website, Google listing, and social media profiles to allow patients to select preferred appointment time slots and securely book medical appointments on their own time.
If you read nothing else: some key takeaways from this article
- Benefits of online appointment booking include convenience, the reduction of patient information errors, and an increase in patient volume
- Online booking systems can help you grow your practice by reducing friction for patients who find out about your clinic through referral or marketing
- Essential features of an online booking system include HIPAA compliance, patient communication tools, EHR integration, and website and social profile plugins
Fill 50% of your last-minute cancellations with NexHealth online scheduling. Find out how.
Benefits of online appointment booking
The #1 benefit of an online booking system is convenience – and our digital standard of living has transformed convenience into currency.
People lead busy lives. According to a study by Accenture, 77% of patients think it’s important to be able to book, change, or cancel appointments online with their healthcare provider.
Patients looking for a new healthcare provider will choose one based on how easily they can take the action of booking an appointment.
But convenience isn’t the only reason to embrace an online booking system.
Online appointment scheduling also reduces patient information errors, increases booked appointments, and reduces canceled appointments. Here are some of the ways online appointment booking can benefit your dental clinic.
Reducing patient information errors
How many times have your staff misspelled a patient’s name when booking an appointment over the phone? Or maybe they’ve misheard an important detail about the reason for an appointment?
Your staff are probably great at what they do – after all, you hired them – but that doesn’t mean they’re perfect. Communication over the phone is a mediocre way to gather important information, especially considering the volume of phone calls your staff handle on a daily basis.
Online booking hands over the information reigns to your patient. They input their own data, that data flows through your online booking system to your EHR, and voilà! – your patient’s information has been captured perfectly in your system.
Increasing booked appointments
Without 24/7 online booking, every moment of staff unavailability can cost you a patient.
When you automate online booking, you’re no longer relying on staff “manning the phones” to gain new patients.
Clinics that adopt online appointment booking see an immediate increase in patient volume. They’ve eliminated phone tag and inserted mechanisms to book appointments where patients already spend time online, like Google and Facebook.
Reducing canceled appointments
Life happens, and patients will always need to cancel appointments. The difference between a canceled appointment over the phone and a canceled appointment online is simple but important: two-way sync.
First, when an appointment is canceled online, the patient is more likely to reschedule their appointment because they’re presented with real-time alternative time slots that are convenient for them.
Second, when an online appointment is canceled, that time slot automatically becomes available for another patient. Your staff no longer need to manually shift time slots. With online booking, 50% of last-minute cancellations are filled because of real-time, two-way syncing between calendars.
“With online booking I can specifically block out my availability, if I don’t want a patient to be able to book me in the morning or in the afternoon. I’m able to curate my schedule and who can have control over it. Especially right now with COVID-19, it’s been a lifesaver.” – Jennifer Plotnick, Grand Street Dental
How to grow your dental practice with online booking
At the beginning of this article, we mentioned the importance of reducing friction for your patients.
Reducing friction becomes especially relevant when you’re promoting your dental practice, perhaps through local Google ads or Facebook, and a prospective patient becomes interested.
Converting leads into patients
Let’s say your marketing efforts have worked, and you’ve snagged yourself a “lead” – someone who’s ready to become a patient.
Then they find out they have to call to book an appointment, but they have a meeting in five minutes and don’t think they have time to hop on the phone. They abandon the process and forget about your clinic.
You’ve now lost that lead because you didn’t have a convenient way to book an appointment.
An online booking system can remove friction and grow your practice by acting as the “nudge”.
Your prospective patient has already made the decision to book an appointment with your clinic, but online booking is the extra nudge they need to act on their decision in that moment, before something else preoccupies their attention.
New patients become returning patients
When you reduce friction, you’re not just serving new patients. You’re improving the experience of your existing ones, too.
What a surprise to find out you can suddenly book all your dentist appointments online! When you implement an online booking system as part of a fulsome patient communication solution, you can delight existing patients by letting them know they no longer need to call your clinic.
Ease of use for dentists and patients
Bottom line – online booking systems are easy to use for patients and staff.
Any good online appointment system for dentists has been designed with healthcare providers in mind – meaning it integrates with your EHR and any other practice management software.
Your staff should require minimal training to interact with your online booking system … because they’ll barely need to interact with it.
True automation means your online booking system is running in the background, doing the work for you to acquire new patients and delight existing ones.
Online booking features
Yes – there are a lot of free online scheduling tools that can handle booking appointments. But were they made with healthcare providers in mind? No.
Here are some non-negotiable features you should expect from your online booking system for your dental clinic.
Free apps like Calendly, Doodle, or Google Calendar can book appointments. But are they HIPAA compliant and made with healthcare providers in mind?
According to the HIPAA Journal website, Calendly is not HIPAA compliant.
Google may offer a version of its suite that is HIPAA compliant, but you’ll need to pay for those features, sign an agreement, and take more steps to make sure you’re compliant. The app also isn’t the friendliest experience outside of a business setting.
HIPAA compliance is non-negotiable, so you’ll need to choose a solution that was made with healthcare providers in mind. Avoiding free shortcuts will save you headaches in the long-term.
Dentist-patient communication through text and email
An online booking system doesn’t exist inside a calendar bubble.
Your solution should come with a full suite of patient communication tools, including appointment reminders, two-way messaging, and follow up text and email messages.
When a patient books online, that’s just the first step. The second, third, and many steps after that involve ongoing communication to make sure appointments still work for both parties, in addition to follow up messages about treatment, at-home care, and even preventative health.
And where should all this communication reside? Within your EHR and practice management systems.
EHR integration for a full information database
An online booking solution needs to integrate with your electronic health record (EHR) system for two-way communication between both systems. Without this functionality, some information will live in your EHR, and other information will live inside your online booking system.
That’s not a solution, that’s a silo.
An online appointment system is one piece of an integrated suite that should also include telemedicine, appointment reminders, online payments, and two-way messaging.
When all of these systems talk to each other, true efficiency at your clinic can shine through. That’s when your staff can focus on what’s important, which is creating the best experience for your patient, whether in the office or virtually via telemedicine.
Social media and website widgets
Patients look for information in two places: Google and social media.
Insert your online booking system where people are already spending their time.
If your SEO strategy is doing its job, people are landing on your website after they’ve performed a local search for dentists in their area.
If your social media strategy is effective, people are landing on your Facebook page and checking your About tab to find out more about your services.
Insist on adopting an online booking system that can embed itself as a widget on your website, Google listing, and social media profiles.
An ideal experience is one where your patient does not need to redirect their attention to seal the deal and book an appointment with your clinic.