Across the medical industry, online booking is becoming the standard, as practices of all kinds look for ways to connect better with patients, streamline staff duties, and bring in more patients.
Using an online appointment booking system can help your practice in all of those areas. Plus, it’s something patients are coming to expect from their healthcare providers. Everyone leads a busy life, and remembering to call the dentist for an appointment during their office hours isn’t going to be on top of anyone’s list. Online booking provides a way for patients to choose an appointment at their own convenience, for themselves and their families.
What Can Online Booking Do?
Another benefit is in drawing new patients to your practice. Online scheduling is an option many patients actively look for, and many of the systems available can do things like take patient insurance information ahead of time, send appointment reminders, and prompt patients for reviews (always a good idea, which we talk more about in our blog on getting patient reviews.)
Online booking also makes it easier on front desk staff, who won’t have to spend so much time on the phone trying to find a good appointment time for a patient. Last, but certainly not least, it allows dentists to keep their schedules fuller in an efficient manner, which is vital to the success of any practice.
What Are The Options?
There are quite a few choices out there for dentists when you’re considering a new appointment booking system. You may already have a patient relationship management system that can automate reminder calls and texts, send emails, message patients, and even take payments for you. Some of these have online scheduling functions included, while other online booking software is simply designed to integrate with such PRM systems.
One vital thing to look for when choosing a booking system is how well it works with your practice management software, too. What’s best for your practice will depend on what systems you already use, and what kind of functionality you find most important. Every system is a little bit different, but here’s a rundown on the major players and what you can expect from each.
SolutionReach Limelight/SR Schedule
SolutionReach is a popular relationship management system made particularly for dentists, but also used by other medical providers. Its online scheduling tool, Limelight, is only available as an add-on option when you’re already using SolutionReach, so it makes the most sense under those circumstances. Limelight, or SR Schedule, does several useful things. It lets patients upload their insurance card to save your staff time ahead of the appointment, allows patients to choose appointment types, providers, locations, times and dates, and works well on both web and mobile.
On the practice’s end of things, SR Schedule promises to integrate well with your dental practice management software. That includes most of the popular ones, specifically Dentrix, Eaglesoft, Open Dental, Denticon, Softdent and Curve Dental. To connect patients with SR Schedule, each practice is given a custom link to direct users into the booking system. You might add the link to your website, Google My Business profile, Facebook page, newsletters and other forms of patient communication; the use of it is unlimited.
This tool essentially reads your schedule and shows patients what times and dates are available to them. When a patient books an appointment, your scheduling or office staff is notified, and they add it to the appointment schedule. This may be a method you prefer, to have a human being do the final step of the appointment process, but if not, the next option could be better suited to your practice. One note on payment and pricing: SolutionReach requires a contract of two years when you sign up, and it’s on the high end of what you’ll pay for a PRM system at $379 a month not including the SR Schedule add-on, which is an additional $80 monthly.
LocalMed is a system built especially for dentists that adds on to any other PRM software you might be using, and focuses only on online patient scheduling. It has two main differences from the other systems mentioned here. The first is that LocalMed can actually book appointments into your practice’s schedule itself, rather than relying on a member of your staff to do it. This takes some of the question marks out of the process, and allows the appointments made with it to appear automatically on your schedule. That’s a huge plus for some folks, and makes others uncomfortable, so it depends on your preference.
The second difference is that rather than directing users to a separate booking site or app, LocalMed has a user-friendly pop-up over the web page or social media site to quickly and easily schedule the appointment. It also has little additional features like the ability for the provider to state which insurances they can accept, allowing the patient to enter their insurance information ahead of time, and built-in validation of birthdates and email addresses to help ensure the right information goes to the right patient. This tool also sends confirmation emails to let patients know they successfully booked. As far as price goes, LocalMed is on the low end at $249 monthly, and allows month-to-month contracts, which offers more flexibility.
ZocDoc, unlike the others mentioned, is a booking system used by all kinds of medical providers as well as dentists. That gives it some pluses and minuses that differ from the others. Because ZocDoc is used by so many health care providers, patients are more likely to be used to it, and even to look for new providers through it. Practices pay to be listed on ZocDoc, and patients can be certain that providers they find there are easy to schedule with. This booking system also integrates patient reviews the best, showing any current or prospective patient the reviews that other ZocDoc users have left for your practice. That’s really helpful for establishing a reputation and web presence. However, the ease of scheduling on ZocDoc is matched by the ease of cancelling an appointment with ZocDoc, and while that’s great for users, it can leave practices struggling to fill too many cancellations.
Like SR Schedule, ZocDoc reads your schedule from your practice management software and allows patients to request appointment times. A staffer in your office then confirms the appointment and schedules it. It integrates with the common management softwares available as well, like Dentrix. The pricing is between the other two, at about $300 per month, and ZocDoc requires a year-long contract.
Choosing an Online Booking System
It’s important to choose whichever online appointment booking system you feel will best fit your practice. If a more powerful, comprehensive patient relationship management and communication system is what you want, SolutionReach with Limelight/SR Schedule is a solid program. If ease, flexibility and price are your concerns, LocalMed is likely to have what you need. If reaching a large number of potential patients and building your online reviews is your goal, ZocDoc is worth your time.
It may seem like a big investment in what could be an optional tool for your practice, but using some form of online appointment booking is simply good business. Limiting patients to booking with you through phone calls alone doesn’t help attract new patients or make it easy for existing ones. And once you do choose an appointment booking method, be sure to keep making it easy for patients to find. Place it prominently on your website and social media, and take advantage of your practice’s Google My Business profile as another source of appointment booking. (We talk more about that in another blog post here.)