Smartphones are an important part of your patients’ and your colleagues’ everyday lives, so we explore how messaging applications could help improve your communication across you practice.
As a dentist you have countless demands on your time – from delivering excellent patient care to running a busy practice – all while keeping up-to-date with clinical developments.
However, it’s important to remember that your patients can be “time poor” as well, so practices can benefit from communicating with patients in a way that’s convenient for them. 
One tool that helps us all keep up to speed with the hectic pace of life is the smartphone. Phones are now an integral part of our lives, with an estimated 49 million current users, rising to 53 million by 2021 in the UK alone. 
There’s no denying that many of us are never far away from our mobiles , and this provides dentists with a key tool to reach patients.
Within the healthcare arena, 52% of smartphone owners already use their phones to look up health-related information , making the mobile a great platform to engage with patients.
Patients and Permissions
Before you start communicating with your patients through any platform, you need to make sure you have their permission to do so.
As with any digital communication, get clarification from your professional body about what is permissible when discussing the treatment of patients, even if anonymised.
Further, it’s essential that you are compliant with applicable data protection legislation and related to this point, security standards.
More Than a Text Message
Text messaging is already widely used by dentists to contact patients and has certainly helped to reduce the number of missed appointments .
One of the great things about text messaging is, whilst many patients may not go to the trouble of downloading an app, they may be open to using text to communicate with their care providers.
Text can be used in a variety of instances , from alerting patients that test results are available, to sending patient satisfaction surveys or even informing them about revised opening times. Unlike a smartphone, you don’t need internet access to receive a text message, so it’s a more reliable option in emergency situations, too .
Furthermore, appointment reminders delivered via text can help reduce missed appointments, as texts have a 98% open rate . You could also use text to help fill open appointment slots when there are last-minute cancellations. 
The App Options
Apps also help you to go a step further and share images, documents and videos with your patients.
For example, apps can help you to distribute specific health information to your patients and provide a convenient place you to store details of your communication with them.
In fact, 93% of doctors believe mobile apps can lead to improved patient health . Some apps even synchronise with check-up reminders so they can help to automate your processes from start to finish.
The first step to making the most of apps, to get patients to download and use them. Some apps are already widely used, like WhatsApp, which more than 1.5 billion people have downloaded .
However, it’s worth remembering that even if a patient is already using a particular app, you still need to ensure that you have permission to use it to communicate with them.
Making the Most of Apps
Digital communications can help to support your dental practice in all sorts of ways, so you’ll need to think carefully about what areas of your business you want to improve and how digital communications can help you.
Many digital platforms allow you to trial the system before you invest, so take time to plan, test and revise your options.
You can also get plenty of ideas on how to make the most of apps from other dentists via networking events, social media groups or through sites like Hootsuite  and providers like WhatsApp  qlickConnect , TigerConnect  or My Dental Clinic .
The apps can support communication in a number of ways, including:
Some apps enable you to chat directly with individuals and also call or video call them. This might be helpful for appointment reminders, to introduce yourself to a new patient or simply to ask patients for feedback.
Gain a second opinion
Dentists have been known to use apps to get a second opinion on a diagnosis or even inspect an emergency when a patient is at home.  Some apps provide a messaging service complete with video function, so you can speak face-to-face with your patient or another dentist.
You can use apps to send blanket messages to a selected group of patients. This could be helpful to remind patients of new services or a change in opening hours. Many apps then allow patients to reply directly to you.
Send documents, images and video
The ability to send documents securely opens up a range of options for you to communicate with patients and colleagues alike. Receipts, appraisal forms, dental care tips and even invitations to events can all be sent quickly via apps.
Some apps enable you to set up groups that can communicate with each other. These could have applications for your practice team, allowing you to share encouragement, announce training and even organize social activities.
Striking the Right Tone
Less can be more when it comes to using apps or text to communicate. Overuse may deter some people from engaging altogether. Phones provide an immediate form of communication, so patients may expect an immediate response, if they reach out to you via text message or through an app. Therefore, it can be helpful to manage their expectations.
For instance, if you say on your website that patients can contact you by SMS during office hours, state your office hours on the same webpage. You can also set up automated messages to let patients know when to expect a reply if they contact you out of hours. 
If you are using text and apps to communicate with your colleagues, then you will also need to give some thought to their work–life balance. Some colleagues may not appreciate getting a messages about work during their time off – especially if it’s something that can wait until normal business hours.
Supporting Great Patient Communication
While the world seems to becoming more digital, there is no replacement for great face-to-face consultations and communication. Thinking about how best to use technology may just give you new ideas about how to do an even better job of interacting and engaging with your patients in more traditional ways too.