An Analysis of Patient Communication Software for Dentists

shutterstock_116233960Some professionals estimate the cost of acquiring a new patient at $200, on the low end, based on marketing expenses divided by new patient numbers. The cost of retaining a patient is estimated at six times less than marketing for new patients. So, a dental practice saves money by retaining patients.

Recall, the term used to describe patients returning for six-month checkups, has long been a critical factor in dental practice profitability. However, six months is a long time. Your patients pass countless dental practices while driving, over the course of six months. In half a year, your patients hear commercials for dental offices, receive direct mail from dental offices, and are referred to other dentists by friends and family. According to the Direct Mail Association, each of your patient’s value diminishes by 10 percent a month. If you neglect contacting a patient for 10 months, that “current” patient is actually a lost patient. There’s little chance he or she will return to your office.

What’s the best way to remain in contact with current patients?

Traditionally, sending appointment recall mailers and following up with a phone call has been the standard recall protocol. This method is still effective. However, today we are inundated with junk mail, so your recall postcard or letter may go the way of the recycle bin before it’s even read. Most people read emails, when those emails come from people and companies they know. So, you can eliminate the expense of creating, printing, addressing, and mailing recall cards by implementing modern patient communication software.

What is patient communication software?

Often provided as a supplemental service by electronic records companies, patient communication software replaces direct mail and can replace telephone reminders regarding recall visits. Most products allow for: appointment scheduling from website, email or text reminders about appointments, e-newsletter capability, thank you emails with surveys, and they meet the standards for email communication legality. From a main dashboard, you upload your patient email list and set up the verbiage and images you want in your emails to patients. In most cases, patient communication software provides data on email receipt, opens, click throughs, bounces, unsubscribes, and new subscribers, as well.

What’s important when choosing patient communication software?

If you’re working with a company that provides electronic patient records, ask if patient communication software is available. You might be pleasantly surprised to learn that the software is available with your current account. Whether you explore patient communication with a company you know or use a service that’s new to your office, consider these factors prior to making your decision.

  1. Ease of use: You or someone in your office will have to manage the software. The portal or admin panel from which management will occur should be user friendly. Request a tour of the admin panel prior to committing to a patient communication product.
  2. Technical support: Inevitably, you will need technical support. Ask for the tech support number, and call it yourself. Who answers? Does he/she seem friendly and helpful? Was it a receptionist or answering machine? You need to know that support will be there when you need it.
  3. eMail list maintenance: Most companies will manage your email list, based on patient files (the records portion of their service). However, can you manually add and delete emails from your list? Are you required to input emails upon commencement of the program, and if so, what’s the process? What format must your patient emails be in for easy upload?
  4. Integration with website: Because your dental website is a hub for patients, team members, and marketing, some patient communication companies offer widgets – snippets of code – that facilitate online appointment scheduling, a feed of patient testimonials, and newsletter subscription.
  5. 5.       Templates provided: Will stock content be made available for email blasts, thank yous, surveys, reminders, and newsletters, or will you need to provide verbiage for all of these templates? Can you upload your logo and photos to the emails, as well? You might need to work with a professional dental copywriter if stock content is unavailable.

Which companies offer patient communication software?

Google shows these companies as the top results for patient communication software.

A Review of Demandforce

ABOUT DEMANDFORCE: Purchased by Intuit in 2012, Demandforce serves all businesses, not just dentists and the medical industry. On the Demandforce website, under Communication, we’re told that their product manages all email and text communications with customers, or patients in the case of dentists. The company offers software to address social media, patient referrals, appointment reminders and confirmations, surveys, postcards, and provides website widgets. Also note that Demandforce used to have a contract with Google so that Demandforce reviews showed up with Google reviews. The contract ended in July 2011.

CUSTOMER SERVICE: At the time this article was written, Demandforce was not rated by the Better Business Bureau. Online reviews are varied; some claim that the company has stellar customer service, while others say the service is poor.

FEES: According to comments posted online, Demandforce’s fees are in the $300-400 a month range. The company appears to have a 30-60 day free trial, with no strings. At the end of the trial, you will either leave or sign a contract that may come with annual auto renewal.

A Review of Solutionreach

ABOUT SOUTIONREACH: Formerly Smile Reminder, Solution Reach offers patient communication software for medical, vision, and dental practices. Services include: multilingual patient messaging for recare, recall, reminders, birthdays, holidays, and marketing campaigns; electronic bill pay,  e-newsletter with stock content you can select from a library, patient education videos, EHR integration, patient surveys and reviews, refer-a-friend program, appointment scheduling, social media integration, wait list management, and much more. In 2013, Solutionreach announced PatientReach, an innovative tablet-based solution for patient registration.

CUSTOMER SERVICE: Dental practices and patients will have access to an online portal. Solutionreach cites training and support as part of their service. The company engaged in a customer service satisfaction survey and posted the score of 9 out of 10. Testimonials on the website tout the awesomeness of customer service reps, as well. Positive feedback is also on public forums, such as this one, which focuses on optical practices.

FEES: Though prices are not published, Solutionreach promises to keep customers at their original fee structure forever – no increases. In addition, all software updates and improvements are offered to all customers, regardless of their fee structure.

A Review of Lighthouse 360

ABOUT LIGHTHOUSE 360: Lighthouse was established in 2002. The three company owners also established Practice Works, a practice management software. Focused solely on dentists, the software as a service (SaaS) patient communication product, Lighthouse 360, was created in 2006. In 2013, Yodle, a well-known small business marketing company, purchased Lighthouse 360. Product features include: AutoConfirm™ appointment confirmations, PerfectRecall™ patient recall emails, RateADentist.com patient review management, reviews posted to major review sites, surveys, data synchs every 10 minutes, email, daily reports, mobile portal, 2-way text messages, Facebook tools, and for an additional monthly fee, optional automated phone calls, postcards, letters, e-newsletters with content, and patient reactivation system.

CUSTOMER SERVICE: Dentists seem to have few complaints with Lighthouse’s customer service, from the information posted online. DentalProuctShopper.com published the results of a survey to 14 Lighthouse customers. The overall score was 4.9 of 5 – which is excellent. DentalProductsReport.com also published an article by Dr. Leonard Tau of Philadelphia, titled “Lighthouse 360 takes a practice to the next level.” In it, Dr. Tau praises Lighthouse and claims that the name of the program “should be set it and forget it” because it “does everything for you.” If this is true, customer service would rarely be needed anyway.

FEES: Lighthouse 360 does not require a contract. Prices are published on the company’s website. Set up fee is $299, and monthly fee is $299.

Pay for What You’ll Use

When a dentist begins the process of comparing patient communication software companies, he or she can become caught up in the competitive marketing blah-blah-blah. Stay focused. Before making those calls, write down the services your practice needs. Review the services of Demandforce, Solutionreach, and Lighthouse 360. Which will you and your staff use? Which will you not use? Don’t pay for products that your office won’t use. Unless you’re personally managing patient communication, you’ll need the buy-in of your front office team. There are many online comments about the difficulty of getting out of a contract with patient communication software companies. Be careful, be wise, and do your homework before signing on the dotted line.

About the Author: Jill Duty, co-owner of MDPM Consulting believes in consumer education. While her company does not offer patient communication software, it does design, create, and manage websites for dentists. Often, patient communication software and review feeds are integrated with dental websites via widgets, so Jill has fielded many questions about these products. If you have questions for Jill or would like to discuss dental marketing, email [email protected] or call 972-781-8861. Visit MDPMConsulting online at www.mdpmconsulting.com.