By Sally McKenzie, DrBicuspid.com contributing writer

July 3, 2018 -- It isn't always easy for patients to call your practice to schedule an appointment. They have work and family responsibilities to manage during the day, so this task often gets put on the bottom of their to-do list. When they finally do have time to pick up the phone, an office might not be open, so patients have to try to fit the call in another day.

Sally McKenzie
Sally McKenzie, CEO of McKenzie Management.

This is where online scheduling can help. Instead of calling your office only to be placed on hold or told to call back during certain hours, patients can select an appointment time from their computer, tablet, or smartphone whenever it's convenient for them. It becomes easier for patients to schedule an appointment at your practice -- and that makes them more likely to actually do it.

Still not convinced you should offer online scheduling? Consider this. According to Zocdoc, an online scheduling tool for the medical profession, 45% of appointments booked through that company's system come in after business hours, with many patients seeing a doctor within 24 hours after making a request. Now I don't expect online scheduling to give you a 45% increase in patient visits, but it will help you reach patients who don't have time to call during the day, which is pretty valuable.

Of course, this isn't the only benefit online scheduling offers. Here are a few more, along with advice on how to make it work in your practice:

1. It helps boost team morale

Most of your team members don't want to spend their days managing phone calls. Implementing an online scheduling system will reduce the number of calls that come in, which allows team members to perform other revenue-generating tasks.

Remember, this doesn't mean you no longer have to train team members to handle calls from patients who want to schedule appointments. There still will be patients who prefer to talk with someone on the phone, so it's important to develop scripts to help ensure team members are comfortable taking these calls. That said, with fewer calls to manage, they'll be able to focus more on the patients who are actually in the practice and creating an experience that will earn their loyalty.

2. It shows your practice is up-to-date

Patients expect to be able to do just about everything online, including making and confirming appointments. If your practice doesn't offer that, they might wonder what else you're behind on, prompting them to visit another dentist.

3. It enhances practice efficiencies

If your online scheduling system is synced with your practice management system, team members won't have to spend as much time entering data, making them more efficient and allows them to focus on other areas of the practice.

The different solutions

Now that you understand the benefits, what should you know before investing in an online scheduling system? Keep in mind that different types of systems are available with different levels of interaction with your existing practice management software.

“If it's not easy for patients to make an appointment with your practice, they won't.”

No matter what system you choose, patients should be able to book appointments from your website or social media profiles. You'll have a practice-specific URL that features details about your practice and gives patients the ability to schedule appointments.

I know what you're thinking.

"I don't have time to design a website or figure out how to add scheduling functionality."

That's OK because you don't have to. The hosting company handles that. All you have to do is keep your profile up to date with important details such as services offered, hours, and the type of insurance you accept.

If you go with a system that syncs with your practice management software, patients will be able to see available appointment times and select the one that works best for them. You'll never have to worry about patients choosing times that aren't available because both systems stay current.

But you might run into a scheduling problem if the system you choose doesn't sync with your software. If that happens, then a team member must follow up with the patient to select another time, which defeats the purpose of offering online scheduling.

Other systems can read your schedule but not actually add the appointment. What does that mean to you? After the appointment is confirmed through the booking system, someone must manually enter it into the practice management software. Some systems make it possible for patients to email the practice to request a time, but again that requires a team member following up to actually schedule the appointment. It does eliminate the need for patients to pick up the phone and call the practice, which is a benefit, but it isn't as efficient as it could be.

If it's not easy for patients to make an appointment with your practice, they won't. Implementing online scheduling simplifies the process and will help you get more patients in the chair, boosting practice productivity and your bottom line.

Sally McKenzie is the CEO of McKenzie Management, a full-service dental practice management company. Contact her directly at 877-777-6151 or at sallymck@mckenziemgmt.com.

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of DrBicuspid.com, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.


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