Wait, according to my parents I was supposed to get my head ‘out of the clouds’.
How times have changed.
Does anyone really know what the cloud is? By most accounts the term “the cloud” was first introduced broadly by Google in 2006, though its origins can be traced back to a much earlier time. For one view of this history you can check out the MIT Technology Review business report Who Coined ‘Cloud Computing’. The article defines the cloud as “…a metaphor for the Internet.”
So the cloud is the Internet, right? Well, sort of. The Internet is most certainly the venue, but for most it is what takes place on the Internet that defines (and continually redefines) the cloud. For dental and orthodontic practices the cloud offers a powerful means of generating more new patient appointments and maintaining a loyal patient community, both of which are critical to sustained practice growth and profitability.
The Internet (and therefore the cloud) has become a central part of life for your prospective and existing patients. A Morgan Stanley study found that 91% of all Americans keep their mobile devices within reach at all times (i.e., 24/7). All you have to do is look in your reception area to see this in action. The question is how can your practice use this cultural shift to attract new patients and keep the ones you have happy and loyal? Here are five suggestions:
- Make sure you have an up-to-date practice website—if you do not have a practice website, get one right away as you are invisible to prospective patients. If you have a practice website, make sure it appeals to prospective patients and automatically optimizes for smartphones and tablets. I recommend a website that uses responsive design (Google recommends it as well) as your practice will not have to maintain a separate mobile website, the user experience is much better, and it helps search engines index your practice (more on that in a minute).
- Don’t neglect SEO—93% of online experiences begin with a search engine. This means your practice needs high rankings to get in front of prospective patients. I recommend you find a company with a proven track record in dentistry to help you craft and then manage a proper SEO strategy to ensure your practice is found.
- Get social (as in social media)—As of January 2014 an astounding 74% of online adults use social networking sites. If you want to engage your patients and drive referrals, you need to make sure your practice is accessing this part of the cloud. If you do it right (and again, I would recommend you get some assistance from a company focused specifically on dentistry) you will have deeper relationships with your patients and see their friends and family make their way to your practice.
- Give your patients easy access to their records—most of your patients can easily go to the cloud to interact with businesses. It’s vital that they can do the same with your practice, since 97% of dental patients prefer to click rather than call the practice. If you do not have a practice portal that lets them manage their relationship with you, you are also forcing them to call the practice, which means your team is now taken away from other duties and productivity suffers. A cloud based patient portal lets your practice do everything needed to build a loyal patient base that keeps appointments, pays bills faster, refers friends and family. One final note—make sure your patient portal uses responsive design, just like your website, as more and more of your patients will access their patient portal from a smartphone or tablet.
- Let patients market your practice online for you—59% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. This is critical to drive new patients to your practice. The challenge with reviews is making sure that they actually come from your patients and making sure they are posted so prospective patients find them. To get the best of both worlds I recommend you use Healthgrades Enhanced Profiles from Sesame. Your post-appointment reviews are verified and get posted to your Enhanced Profile on Healthgrades.com where more than 20 million annual visitors search to find and make an appointment with a local dental care provider.
Please understand that all of these five suggestions are interrelated. They all operate in the cloud. I would suggest you find one trusted company that is focused on dentistry and work with them. Just think of the extra time you would have to spend if a different company managed each of these areas. It’s just more efficient and effective to work with one company.
Is your practice in the cloud? An even better question might be is your practice taking full advantage of the cloud? It’s probably time for you to reassess (or build) your digital marketing and patient engagement strategy and get your head (and more importantly your practice) in the cloud.