The healthcare industry has been changing at a rapid rate. Dentists at private practices and healthcare professionals of all kinds have had to adapt to a quickly changing world. The COVID pandemic has only accelerated the pace of that change.

Among other things, dentists have had to accommodate patients who become more tech-savvy with each passing year. Dental patients now expect their dentists to be active on social media, have websites that demonstrate their expertise, and be easily found on Google. More than that, patients want to make dental appointments online quickly, when it’s convenient for them.

Adapting to new ways of doing things takes time and effort, which is why we’ll run you through what online scheduling is and how it works, the most popular types of patient scheduling systems, and set out some guidelines for you to follow.

What is Online Scheduling?

It was common for patients to wait up to an hour to see a doctor or dentist in decades past. Busy waiting rooms were one sign of a successful practice.

The digital age has changed all of that. Smartphone apps like Uber and Instacart have changed the way people experience products and services. People’s hectic, fast-paced lifestyles have led them to expect convenience and instant gratification.

Your patients expect you to have a digital presence by the time they find you. They expect you to be active on social media, be easily found with a Google search, and have a website demonstrating your credentials and expertise. Above everything else, they expect to be able to book appointments with you online – and even after-hours – using any device.

That’s why online scheduling platforms are critical for your practice growth. Apps like NexHealth let your patients schedule appointments with you at their convenience using an app or website.

How Online Patient Scheduling Works

Online dental appointment systems help transform your patient experience by automating making dental appointments for you. Automating online scheduling maximizes the number of potential appointments so that your practice can grow.

A 2016 survey showed that while 42% of patients indicated that they would prefer to schedule appointments online, only 17% of dental practices offered online booking. Today, more and more dental clinics are using automated appointment systems to grow their practice and satisfy this unmet need.

An excellent online scheduling system includes:

  • Flexibility: Lets your patients specify one of your services, appointment locations, and providers to customize their booking experience
  • Payment Processing: Collects payments at the time of booking and integrates with your bank account
  • Calendar Synchronization: Automatically syncs with the online calendar in your practice management system (Dentrix, Eaglesoft, etc.)
  • Convenience: Allows patients to book appointments with you 24/7, on any device

Different Types of Online Scheduling

Assuming that you have a dental appointment system that you’re happy with, you have flexibility in how to organize your appointments.

Time-Specified Scheduling

Time-specified scheduling is when your patients can book with you at a specific time. Most dental clinics use this system.

This scheduling system minimizes the time your patient has to wait for you to see them. It also allows your assistant to allocate time in your schedule for urgent appointments.

Wave Scheduling

In wave scheduling, patients are scheduled at half-hour intervals in groups of three or four. This sets it up so that patients arrive in “waves,” so your clinic has a continual stream of patients.

If you opt for wave scheduling, be wary that not all patients are comfortable with being grouped at the same appointment time. You can respond to complaints by explaining that patients are seen in the order that they arrive.

Modified Wave Scheduling

In the modified version of the wave system, you book waves of patients on the top of the hour and keep the second half-hour interval open for special circumstances, e.g., emergency appointments and urgent visits.

Double Booking

Double booking is the practice of scheduling two patients in a single time slot. This is a helpful way of fitting a patient around another patient undergoing a particular procedure, e.g., a root canal or a filling. Double booking can be helpful, but it’s essential to be mindful that some patients may not appreciate longer-than-expected wait times to see you. 

Open Booking

In open booking, patients are told to come to your office within a specified time frame, e.g., between  9:00 AM and 11:00 AM. This way, you can prioritize patients with urgent concerns over patients with less critical or time-sensitive issues.

Online Scheduling Tips for Your Dental Practice

Online dental appointment systems are the future of private practice management. However, adjusting to any new technology, process, or a new way of doing things requires a learning curve and a grace period for both patients and staff.

Here are a few dental appointment scheduling tips and guidelines to be mindful of as you integrate this solution into your practice:

1. Place Your Scheduling Link Everywhere

Your practice management system should integrate with whatever online scheduling software you use to reduce manual errors and free up time for staff. It’s in your best interest to post this link everywhere you have a web presence.

Place your schedule link in your social media bios and at the bottom of each post. Make it readily available with a prominent “call-to-action” button on your website. Display it on your business directory pages like Yelp, in your email signature, and your practice’s email newsletters. You can even put it on your business cards.

This way, anyone who wants to book an appointment with you can do so after a simple search for you online.

2. Automated Appointment Reminders

One of the most significant benefits of an online appointment system is reducing no-shows or canceled appointments, which actively drain money out of your bank account. Configure your patient experience solution, like NexHealth, to send automated email and text messages to your patients before their visits.

Appointment reminders help your patient be on time for their appointment so that practice visits run smoothly and no-shows are kept to a minimum.

3. Reduce Friction for Patients

The promise of convenience is the whole point of online scheduling. Online dental appointment booking should enable your patients to book appointments with you anytime, anywhere, and from any device.

Other good practices include enabling patients to book round-the-clock and offering extended hours on certain days and times of the week.

4. Block Time for Patient Emergencies

Unexpected arrivals with urgent problems at your practice can disrupt your entire workflow. The best way to deal with them is to plan for them in advance, which you can do by blocking out chunks of your day for urgent appointments.

Managing your schedule this way will help you see patients with urgent needs without interrupting your other scheduled meetings.

Wrapping-Up

Appointment scheduling systems enable your practice to grow to its fullest potential. They make the lives of both you and your patients much more accessible.

Here are some things to keep in mind when implementing a dental clinic appointment system:

  • Create a schedule link and post it everywhere you have a web presence
  • Set up automated appointment reminders
  • Offer convenience to your patients by letting them book round-the-clock
  • Block time out of your day for emergency visits
  • Integrate online scheduling with your practice management system

NexHealth offers all of these and more. Sign up for a NexHealth demo, and make your practice perform at its full potential.

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