In an ideal world—or even in the pre-pandemic world—your practice would schedule patients for hygiene visits every 6 months. If your practice, like most, was shut down for much of March through May, you may see some serious gaps in your September-through-November hygiene schedule.
Patients’ fear and anxiety over COVID-19 is undoubtedly making it harder to fill these open spots. In a July survey by the North American Dental Group, 60% of patients say they’re comfortable visiting a dentist for a hygiene appointment—more than double the percentage in April. But that still leaves a big group of patients who are frightened or uncertain about visiting your office. Even patients who do schedule hygiene appointments may cancel at the last minute or not show up at all. No wonder that in August, 49.9% of dental practices reported lower-than-normal patient volume.
How can you fill empty chairs this Fall and get your practice’s productivity back to normal? Here are four steps to follow.
Earn their trust
With much still unknown about COVID-19, patients’ trust in your practice is key to getting them back in the office. Use your website, social media presence and email marketing to remind patients that dentists are healthcare professionals and that keeping patients safe has always been part of your daily routine. Also note that in most parts of the country, practices nationwide have been treating hygiene patients since June, with no reports of outbreaks due to dental visits.
Ease patients’ safety concerns by sharing all the steps your practice is taking to protect them. If you’re using Virtual Waiting Room feature of Lighthouse 360, for instance, create an email blast highlighting how it works. Record a quick video walking through a typical hygiene appointment so patients can see for themselves all the precautions you are taking. Seeing is believing!
Emphasize the importance of dental care and the potential costs to patients’ health (and bank accounts) of skipping hygiene appointments. Patients whose March six-month appointments were cancelled may not have been seen since last September. Missing appointments can lead to painful and costly dental problems that could have been prevented with regular care.
Automate patient recall and reactivation
Lighthouse 360’s automated recall and reactivation features make it easy to get your patients back on schedule. Some patient communication tools wait until a patient has missed their 6-month appointment to contact them. Lighthouse proactively sends recall messages 4 weeks ahead of the date when the patient should be seen. On average, Lighthouse reduces recall time by 41%.
If patients don’t respond, automated messaging continues until 12 months have passed. At that point you can select from a variety of communications (including letters) to send to the now-dormant patient. Nine in 10 users report Lighthouse increases dormant patient reactivations.
Make it convenient
Promote your payment options. Many patients have lost jobs or had their hours cut; others have lost their dental insurance. Educate patients about other options for paying for dental care, such as payment plans, any membership plans your office offers, or health-care credit cards you accept. Lighthouse 360’s Online Bill Pay feature is a tool that simplifies the collections process by giving patients the ability to make payments on the practice website.
Educate patients about insurance options. Some dental insurance providers are waiving requirements that covered hygiene appointments be 6 months and 1 day apart. Patients who have gone longer than 6 months between routine appointments may need multiple appointments to undo the damage that skipping appointments has done. Find out if patients’ insurers will cover 2 appointments in 2020, no matter how close together they are.
Consider adding more hygiene hours or extending your office hours to evenings, early mornings or Saturdays to meet demand for hygiene appointments. Patients’ lives are more chaotic than usual, so you need to be flexible if you want to get them back in your office. Your hygienists and front desk staff may welcome extra hours as a way to make up for income lost during COVID-19 closures. Just be sure you pay appropriate overtime as required by your state’s employment laws.
You can also save patients the travel and time with a virtual visit. Consider how you can make appointments more convenient for patients and keep chair time for production by offering teledentistry services. Teledent is a recognized cloud teledentistry platform that allows practices to operate virtually while maintaining strong connections with your patients.
Automatically fill cancelled appointments
Despite your best efforts, patients may cancel their appointments at the last minute or simply not show up. Lighthouse 360’s Fill-in feature helps keep unexpected cancellations from wasting valuable chair time. Fill-in detects a cancelled appointment in your schedule and reaches out to the patients most likely to want the spot; you approve the new appointment right in the Lighthouse portal.
Fill-in works whether or not your office maintains an “as soon as possible” list. You can choose whether to contact patients on your list; if you don’t have a list, you can contact patients based on behavior. For example, if Mrs. Murphy always books appointments after 3 p.m., she’ll be contacted if a 3:30 spot opens up, but not for a 9 a.m. appointment.
Get ready for a successful Fall
The American Dental Association is projecting next year’s dental spending will be 32.3% below pre-pandemic levels. Don’t let COVID-19 slowdowns hurt your practice’s profits. Put these tips into action today and start filling your chairs this Fall.