Temple Street Dental Practice is a mixed practice based in Oxford that opened as a squat in June 2012, without a single patient. Assistant practice manager, Deb Morris, tells how the practice has flourished, thanks in part, to the unprecedented success of Exact’s online booking system.
I transferred here from our sister practice – Studental, which is situated in a prime location on the campus of Oxford Brookes University in Headington. Opened by one of the owners of Temple Street, Michael Cooper, in 1999, Studental is a large highly-successful practice that appeals to staff and students as well as local residents, who love the online appointment booking service provided.
Opening a new practice
It was largely due to the positive experience with online booking we had enjoyed at Studental that encouraged us to replicate the system at Temple Street. It is quite a daunting prospect to start a practice from scratch, with not a single patient when the doors are first opened, but knowing our previous success with online booking we were confident that we could attract enough patients to make the practice viable.
The practice itself is located on a small side street, off a busy road offering little opportunity to attract walk-in patients. We started distributing leaflets in the local area and slowly but surely things started to pick up, mainly by word of mouth. However, the real progress came when we started moving up the Google search engine ratings for local dentists and that’s when the online booking facility, available to new patients direct from our website, really came into its own.
Our website permits all new patients to book an initial consultation online, enabling prospective patients to choose their own appointment at a time that suits them. We are open weekdays from 08.00-18.00 and keep the majority of our appointment book open for patients to select the most suitable time. We have a range of services that can be booked online and via Exact we configure how long each appointment will be. For routine check-ups we allow 15 minutes, whereas cosmetic consultations have 40 minutes allocated. The system is very easy to set up and amend if required and if we have any problems we phone Software of Excellence’s support team, which we have found to be extremely helpful and knowledgeable.
Patients both new and old
In addition to helping us attract more new patients, online booking has also helped us retain the patients we already have. The system has proved so efficient that we don’t routinely book six monthly check-ups in the practice before patients leave, we simply run our recalls automatically from Exact with a link to our online booking portal, and as a result our failure to attend rate has dropped significantly.
Our recall system is now fully automated through Exact and this has alleviated pressure on the reception, giving us the opportunity to become much more customer-focused. Previously I had always run monthly recalls, so no longer having to complete this task feels quite strange, but it has been a very smooth transition and now it operates like clockwork.
The practice is now attracting around 180 new patients every month, the majority of whom are NHS. When booking online via our website there are two tabs for the patient to choose between NHS and private clinicians, they simply click on the one they require. It is a very easy and straightforward system.
In my opinion the success of online booking can be mainly attributed to its convenience. When a patient is searching for a new dentist the likelihood is that they will see a phone number on a website, note it down and then think: ‘Okay, I’ll do that later’, leading to the possibility that they will forget. If the option to book an appointment is available they are much more likely to do it immediately. They can also book at a time that suits them; we have found that 54% of our patients book appointments out of surgery hours.
One of the great features of Exact is that it gives us a clear report on how the practice is performing. This enables me to see how many of our new patients are coming via the online booking portal, what time of the day they are making appointments and whether or not this is out of hours. And so far our results are outstanding with patient numbers growing enormously in two years, from zero to approximately 3,000.
If anyone is asking the question: ‘Is online booking value for money?’ I would say: ‘Very much so’. All I can do is sing its praises and I really can’t think of a reason why people wouldn’t use it. I would say that online booking is the best investment a practice can make and is certainly helping make our practice into a great business – the results are clear and the figures speak for themselves.