Overcoming 5 Fears of Online Scheduling For Dental Practices

Adopting new technologies can be intimidating for any dental practice, especially when they involve changes to established routines or require alterations to processes the practice is comfortable with - in our business, we see it every day. Of all the products and services Flex has to offer, the one that continues to generate great success stories also seems to inspire the most hesitancy from practices to implement - online scheduling. 

From reservations about allowing patients to book appointments on their own to concerns over practice management integration, we’ve heard it all. And, because we have years of experience implementing online scheduling, we have a good bit of insight we can share - free of charge!

Typically, a practice’s hesitancy to offer online scheduling to their patients stems from one or more of the following 5 areas. Here’s a closer look along with our suggestions to ensure a successful experience with an online scheduling system: 

1. Control

Truth be told, I’m a bit of a control freak. I can definitely relate to the anxiety that comes with a perceived reduction in control, which is a main concern for dental practices considering online scheduling. After all, no one wants their appointment schedule to be turned into chaos. Having worked in a busy practice myself, I know how critical a smooth schedule is.

So how can you ensure your schedule stays nice and tidy after implementing online scheduling? From our perspective, it’s pretty simple - go with a solution that is advanced enough to allow you a high level of control over what portion of your schedule is available to be booked online. You should be able to dictate what types of appointments can be scheduled online, which providers are available, and even which patients are allowed to schedule online. You definitely do not want a “free for all'' situation that creates more headaches than it solves. 

We do not recommend using an appointment request form or a technology that cannot read/write to your appointment book in real time. Make sure your online scheduler actually books appointments rather than just sending you a request via a form submission. Online schedulers that do not include real-time updating of your available appointments can often cause additional issues with double bookings, which, in turn, creates more administrative work to get the schedule sorted out. This inefficiency is exactly what you are trying to avoid.

2. Customization

Every practice is different, with their own unique workflow preferences and services that they offer. Often, some online scheduling systems just don’t include the level of customization needed. Choose an online scheduling platform that offers the ability to customize appointment types, descriptions, and lengths so your patients can identify what their need is and book accordingly.

Beyond custom appointment types, be sure the solution you go with offers custom questions, so you can get all of the relevant data you need from each and every patient.

3. Cost

The thought of adding a new expense often causes anxiety for practices. Fortunately, the cost/benefit analysis for online scheduling is pretty easy to do. 

There are quite a few online scheduling technologies available at a range of price points. Based on our research, you can expect to pay somewhere in the range of $199-$350 per month for online scheduling depending on features. Keep in mind that each service differs slightly in what features they offer, so make sure to do an apples to apples comparison. Regardless of what online scheduling system you choose, you should be somewhere in the neighborhood of $2,388-4,200 per year as an annual investment in online scheduling.

For full disclosure, our online scheduling system, FlexSchedule, is $199 per month as a stand alone solution or it can be bundled with our Flex patient communication suite ($299/month stand-alone) for $398 per month, so you save $50 per month when taking advantage of both services. 

As a snapshot into new patient generation, our FlexSchedule users averaged 17 new patients booked online per practice in April 2021. Since every practice has different fee schedules, we will use the ADA estimate of $653 for annual per patient spend to get an idea of the revenue online scheduling can generate. 

  • 17 new patients per month x 12 months = 204 new patients annually
  • $653 x 204 patients = $133,212 of revenue per year booked online

When taking annual spend into consideration, our example above would generate between $129,012-$130,824 in revenue from online scheduling.

Also, to get an idea of marketing ROI, be sure to ask about tracking links, which are great for analyzing the best sources for generating online patients. This will give you the ability to track your marketing investments across the channels you’ve invested in and give you a method for prioritizing spend.

4. Integration With Your Practice Management System

Lack of communication between an online scheduling system and practice management software can be a recipe for disaster. For online scheduling to be successful, you need to make sure there is a very strong integration with your practice management system. In the case of Flex, we integrate directly with Open Dental.

Like everything else, some online scheduling systems do a better job of integrating with practice management software than others. Remember the real-time appointment schedule updates we mentioned earlier? This is not possible without a very tight integration with your practice management system and appointment book. Also, make sure your system respects the schedule established in your practice management system so that times you are not available (lunch, for example) are never an option for online appointments.

You also need to be able to capture any data submitted via your online scheduling forms and record it into your management software. Online scheduling systems with a great practice management integration will allow for seamless data transfer, more workflow automation and, therefore, improve staff efficiency.

5. A Previous Experience That Didn’t Meet Expectations

Possibly the most common concern we hear from practices regarding online scheduling goes back to a previous experience that did not live up to expectations, often due to workflow issues, upfront costs, high numbers of no-show appointments, and an interface that isn’t easy for patients to use. Here’s what you’ll want to look for to ensure success moving forward: 

  • Use an online scheduler with high levels of customization that allows you to dictate which appointments are available online. 
  • Work with a company that does not request high upfront costs or lengthy implementation processes.
  • Ask about authentication of online appointments via text so that patients booking online are verified prior to scheduling and more likely to show up.
  • Check on both desktop and mobile device compatibility so that patients looking to book online will have a great user experience, regardless of the type of device they are using to schedule an appointment.
  • Use online scheduling as a call-to-action in your marketing, especially via Google ads, your website, and social media. Make booking appointments with your practice quick and easy.

With regard to minimizing no-shows, the text authentication mentioned above is a great first step to reduce broken appointments because the text verification ensures it’s a real person (and not a bot) scheduling time with you. Beyond verification, making sure you have a process to efficiently and consistently communicate with upcoming appointments is key to keeping them engaged and reduce no-shows.

Utilize Online Scheduling and Grow Your Business

As we move toward the future, online scheduling will become the norm and it's nothing to be afraid of if you know what features to look for. Whether you’ve used an online scheduling solution in the past that didn’t meet expectations or your practice is just doing research into the technology, I hope you found this article helpful. If our team can answer any questions for you about online scheduling, what questions to ask while shopping, or just provide some best practices as you move forward, please let us know. We are here and happy to help!   

How To Learn More About Online Scheduling With FlexSchedule in Open Dental

FlexSchedule and the entire Flex suite of patient communication tools were designed to work seamlessly in Open Dental. If your Open Dental practice is looking for an online scheduling or patient communication solution, please begin your research by checking out our learning hub and asking for opinions of Flex from other Open Dental practices. We pride ourselves on creating Flex fans for life. The words of our customers are our best reference and we think you’ll like what you find.

Our team members are all what we affectionately call “Flex-perts” and make it a priority to address all requests quickly and knowledgeably. If you have any questions or would like to learn more, please click the button below and submit your questions online. A member of our team will connect with you shortly and help you understand the value that Flex can bring to your practice and your patients.

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