By Michelle Shimmin
A digital workflow is a form of creating value, based on the development of patient benefits using digital technologies. This ranges from the treatment modalities you offer to creating digital treatment plans like aligners or 3D printed brackets, to how you will ‘see’ your patients for their treatment visits, to how you will communicate with and support your patients’ questions and compliance throughout their treatment process.
Digital workflows allow orthodontists to provide treatment options that work with patient preferences while supporting practice growth with maximum efficiency and profitability. A patient-centered experience has become the differentiator for practices and that means providing care that is respectful of and responsive to individual patient preferences, needs, and values.
Look to open the landscape of your schedule by knowing what in-person appointments are valuable, and what appointments are just as effective if done virtually. Don’t look at the virtual appointments as ‘less than’ or as a last resort. We should feel passionate and excited about what we provide our patients. The message your team portrays is what the patient will hear. If you are looking to turn your patients into your walking-talking referrals, it’s imperative that your team educates and influences your patients’ feelings and perceptions about what you offer and provide regarding convenience, or really any service or product you deliver.
The pandemic compelled consumers to shift their expectations more rapidly and completely than has ever been seen. People looked inward, elevating relationships and responsibility, and re-evaluated their priorities. The pandemic caused them to rethink their personal purpose and re-evaluate what’s important to them in life. These consumers are changing their buying habits accordingly. In doing so, they’re creating enormous opportunities for companies that respond by resetting strategies and setting new standards for meeting and exceeding their expectations.
Not only will digital offerings serve your patients better, but they also allow your practice to grow and increase profits per chair time without adding more patient days or staff to your team. Take for instance your new patient exam. Have you assessed if you will have an option for a virtual new patient exam process? This process varies from fully adopted virtual exams for every new patient to offering an option of the patient submitting their photos online and having a virtual appointment to discuss the doctor’s treatment recommendations. This option allows for patients to gather more information before having to take a significant amount of time out of their day to come into your office for an exam appointment. This allows the ‘shoppers’ or ‘lookers’ to gain information to decide if they will pursue further, all while taking up minimal amounts of YOUR time and theirs. I highly recommend effective and strong scripting, or education, to the patient during that first phone call regarding what the process will look like in your office for them. This education will aid the patient in seeing the benefit of a virtual appointment and what it provides them! In addition, the better the patient understands the process, the better and more successful the experience will be for them. I advise you to assess how to enhance your digital offerings and what fits your team and patients; don’t simply look to emulate someone else’s process if it doesn’t reflect your goals and desires.
When implementing a digital patient workflow into your practice ensure that you have clearly defined roles for every position. Understanding and writing out clearly defined roles and expectations will also give you a clear picture of your staffing needs and requirements. Digital systems and virtual care are changing everything from how practices build and maintain teams, job descriptions within a practice, and what qualifications and professional skills doctors need to look for in today’s candidates. Technology and new products entering the industry will provide opportunities not only to treat your patients’ needs better but also to reimagine your staffing needs and skill sets that have the potential to significantly reduce your stress regarding staffing and provide flexibility to the positions. Digital workflow processes also help to alleviate a significant problem we are having in our industry related to hiring and staffing. Combining job duties, eliminating the need for expanding clinical positions, etc. Depending on the range of digital services you will provide, consider having a dedicated digital manager position within your practice.
Look for solutions in areas of your practice that can have immediate and significant impacts from the new patient phone call, patient scheduling, new patient exam, and your treatment modalities. What workflow options are available and then how a position such as a digital manager can ensure that any processes or modalities you offer are monitored and followed through to the patient with no interruptions or delays in treatment.
What you should look to achieve as you evaluate new processes is to increase your revenue per chair time, which means to minimize the number of times a patient is seen in person in your office. This DOES NOT mean limiting the amount of communication or education with the patient. In fact, oftentimes, through these digital solutions we see up to 400% more points of patient contact as we are communicating with them through digital mediums such as video conferencing and text messaging more consistently throughout their treatment rather than the traditional mode of only using an in-person appointment to communicate with the patient. We have the opportunity with digital treatments and virtual appointments to develop better patient relationships without taking up in-office chair time or doctor time. This is extremely convenient to the patient and time effective for you and your team, allowing you to have the ability to use that extra time to focus on additional areas of growth within your practice.
There are more options available to our patients than there ever have been, from DIY to general dentists that can erode our patient base, and you might question how you can compete in today’s marketplace as a practice owner. I challenge anyone not yet adopting digital patient flows to at least start to ask yourself these questions:
Answering some of these questions will set you on the road to finding answers and solutions that fit you and where you need to be going.
Michelle Shimmin is an international lecturer, trainer and consultant who has been in the field of orthodontics since 1990. She helps transform orthodontic offices on their systems to promote training, growth, and success through a
comprehensive practice approach.