We take it for granted, and it’s barely changed since the beginning of our dental practice. Whether you’ve been in practice for two years or twenty years, the primary way your patients use to contact your dental office has changed very little. Telephone communication is the method 99% of our patients use to contact us. Whether they are calling to schedule an appointment, ask about their balance or their dental insurance coverage, the phone your office uses has done little to keep up with the computer age.

Phones Tied to Practice Management Systems Aid Front Office Effectiveness

With the advent of computer telephony, the capability now exists to interface your office’s dental practice management software with the telephone. This direct connection has the capability to make your front office team much more efficient, and if used properly, make a significant positive impact on your practice’s bottom line.

Imagine this: Your “phone” rings, but your office doesn’t even have a phone. Your receptionist is wearing a Bluetooth earpiece that is connected to a tablet computer (i.e. iPad). After she clicks to answer the call, her desktop computer instantly displays information on the screen showing the patient’s name and basic demographics from your practice management system. With no effort, she immediately knows the patient was due for their recall six months ago, and that they have an overdue balance of $75. With just a couple of clicks, she has access to all of the phone conversations that have occurred with your patient, and your reception even has a script displayed to guide her through the call.

Much of this is already possible. There are several companies already offering these services, including Weave (www.getweave.com). Weave is a cloud-based software designed for dental offices. As a cloud-based product, the software works directly on your computer with no need for you to perform software updates. There is no need for any complicated servers. At night when you are out of the office, uploads can be done from your latest information from Dentrix, Eaglesoft, or other practice management software. Then when the phone rings, your team is ready.

Implement Systems to Be More Effective

I lecture on using systems and protocols to make clinical practice more efficient, and products like these can guide your team with patient-specific information from your practice management software, and in the process directly impact your practice’s customer service. In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins says “The mark of mediocrity is not the unwillingness to change. The mark of mediocrity is inconsistency.” Instant access to data allows your team to give each patient a consistent experience. For your full-time receptionist, this might be just being able to use a patient’s name when she calls, instead of having to ask how to spell her name. For newer staff members, scripts are a tremendous training tool in handling patient calls. Templates also make cross-training feasible when your clinical staff has to pinch-hit on the phone.

In my office, we have a basic rule: if everyone in the front office is tied up where they cannot take a call, any available team member is required to answer the phone – even the doctor. We don’t want the phone call to go to voice mail, we want to make a positive experience each time our patient calls. Since we all wear radios to communicate with each other, when our receptionist can’t take the call, she simply taps her radio’s microphone, signaling that someone else needs to get to the phone call. The use of phone templates for phone calls has allowed us to cross-train with relative ease.

Access Your Patient Information Instantaneously

With instant access to your patient’s information, you suddenly have new productivity tools. This makes it practical to notice that your caller’s daughter is also due for her preventive exam and cleaning while you’re already on the line, and get that extra appointment scheduled. When you see on the screen that your patient’s birthday is next week, you take the opportunity to extend a birthday greeting and your patient is amazed.

For patients with a younger mindset, communicating by text messaging has become the preferred way to communicate. Communicating with your patients in the way they prefer is part of knowing your customers and strengthening your relationship with them. Let’s face it, while many of your team members may be fluent at texting, carrying on a full-text conversation that can accomplish a scheduled appointment is cumbersome with a smartphone. Using software that pulls patient data from your dental software so you can type custom messages from your computer desktop, send reminders, ask questions, or carry on a complete conversation, all through your computer keyboard makes texting not only easier but more efficient too.

How many of you have sent a text message to a busy friend before you call, just asking if now is a good time to talk. The availability of text messaging in the dental office gives you this same ability, allowing you to gently start the conversation with a text message. This allows your office one more way to show how much you respect your patient’s time.

If you already know your office phone system needs updating, changing to a system that can interface with your practice management system is a no-brainer. You can have all of these capabilities and features instantly for the same cost of a “new” traditional PBX phone system. Even if your office phone system seems to be doing its job, the use of a software interface between your phones and your dental software can justify the upgrade.

Without a doubt, phone technology that can access patient data from dental software will help a front office staff be more effective than any tool, for the front office, has in the past 15 years. It’s time for all of us to move past 15-year-old phone technology, into the future of effective patient communication. My impression: The future is here, and I like what I see.

By Dr. William J. Moorhead

William J. Moorhead DMD maintains a private practice for family and sedation dentistry in Flemingsburg, KY. Dr. Moorhead is the developer of StreamDent® software, and speaks on topics for decreasing stress and improving workflow in the dental office. A 1981 graduate of University of Louisville School of Dentistry, Dr. Moorhead is President of the Kentucky Dental Association and holds fellowships in the Pierre Fauchard Academy and the Dental Organization for Conscious Sedation.