Donít offer online scheduling yet? These are the benefits youíre missing out on

By Sally McKenzie, CEO Printer Friendly Version

Going to the dentist can be stressful enough for patients—you don’t want the appointment making process to add to their anxiety. But if they always get put on hold or are asked to call back when they finally find time to call the office, it makes for an unpleasant experience and a negative vibe before they even walk through the door.

You and your team members do your best to put patients at ease and give them an exceptional experience during their visit, but you won’t have the opportunity if patients can’t easily schedule an appointment. Online scheduling allows patients to make an appointment whenever it’s convenient for them, wherever they are day or night. They can pull out their smartphone or tablet or sit down at their home computer whenever they have time. There’s no need to wait on hold or keep calling back in the hopes they actually get to talk to somebody.

And because the health care industry is offering online scheduling more and more, patients are starting to expect it as an option. If it isn’t, they might look at your practice as out of date and out of touch—and not a place they want to call their dental home.

If you haven’t already done it, I suggest you consider implementing online scheduling into your practice. Here are just a few of the benefits you’ll experience when you do, along with some guidance on how to get the most out of the system you choose for your office.

You have access to more patients. Just like you, many of your patients are busy during the day. They’re juggling work and family commitments, and making their dental appointment isn’t usually a top priority. They’ll do it if a few minutes free up during their day, but if they waste that time waiting on hold or are greeted by a we’re out to lunch message, they’re going to be annoyed. Some might be frustrated enough to try their luck with a different practice, which of course hurts production numbers and your bottom line.

If you’re not convinced yet, this should do it: According to Zocdoc, an online scheduling tool for the medical profession, 45% of appointments booked through this system come in after business hours. Many of the patients who used the system saw a doctor within 24 hours of making an appointment request. While you won’t see this big of an increase when you implement online scheduling into your practice, you will have access to patients who don’t have time to call during the day. That will help you boost production and grow your practice.

Your team members will love it
Your team members really don’t want to spend their day managing phone calls. Not only is it stressful, it takes their focus off the patients who are actually in the practice and keeps them from completing other practice-boosting tasks. Online scheduling will reduce the time they spend on the phone each day and will make them more efficient. They’ll be happier, which will show in the way they interact with your patients.

Which system is right for you?
There are a variety of online scheduling systems available. Before you invest in one, it’s important to think about what will work best for your practice. For example, some systems totally sync with your practice management software while others only partially sync.

The goal is to enable your patients to schedule appointments straight from your website or social media profiles. Whatever booking system you choose will give you a practice-specific URL that includes information about your practice and gives patients the ability to schedule. Don’t worry—you don’t need to design the website or add the scheduling capability. The hosting company will handle that. You will, however, need to maintain your profile with the most updated information, such as services you offer, office hours and accepted insurance plans.

Fully syncing versus partially syncing
Systems that sync with your practice management software offer the most efficiencies. Patients can see available appointment times and select the one that best fits their schedule. Both systems are kept up to date, so you’ll never have issues with patients selecting times that aren’t really available. Someone from the practice will have to reach out to the patient to reschedule when that happens, which is annoying to the patient and negates the benefits of online scheduling.

There are other systems that read your schedule but can’t add appointments. After the appointment is confirmed through the booking system, a team member will have to manually enter it into the practice management software. Other solutions allow patients to email the practice to request an appointment, but again someone needs to respond via phone or email. While this is not the most efficient way to use online scheduling, it still reduces the number of phone calls coming in each day, which is a benefit.

Easy scheduling leads to more appointments
When scheduling is convenient, patients are more likely to do it. Offering online scheduling will reduce stress for team members and patients, translating into improved efficiencies, increased production and a more robust bottom line.

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