Improving patient contact during a pandemic
Ben Goode looks at how social media can help you communicate with a large number of patients quickly and in a cost-effective manner.
The current coronavirus pandemic has led to a dramatic change in working patterns for everyone. Dental practices have to embrace all forms of technology to communicate with patients.
At Denplan, we often get asked by our member dentists to support them on social media.
Some dental practices have been using social media for years. Others have long thought about it, but have never taken the leap.
Questions are often around consent and which platforms are best.
During the pandemic everyone has had to adapt and use technology to communicate. Now is the time to work out how these changes in communication can allow you to interact with your patients more efficiently.
Social media can produce a fun, yet professional image of the practice. This will encourage patient loyalty and give them access to high quality information when direct access to a dental professional is limited.
Different social media channels offer different benefits and this may help you choose what to embrace.
According to www.statistica.com, 79% of UK adults use Facebook regularly. With a female to male ratio of 54:46.
In March 2020, almost 45 million UK residents used Facebook. Women between the ages of 25 to 34 make up the largest single group.
Many dental practices already use this platform for marketing and to communicate with patients. It is free to set up a business page.
However, to use it effectively, it requires some investment of time and a good following from your patient base.
It is also possible to use this platform for targeted paid-for advertising if you have the available budget. And to schedule posts in advance, which is a great tool to post over the weekend.
In March 2020, more than 24 million users of this social media platform were UK-based. With 31.9% being 25-34 years of age, according to www.statistica.com.
As a general rule, Instagram tends to have a younger demographic than Facebook. The platform focuses more on personal content and, as a result, it is not possible to share other posts.
However, you can tag other accounts and utilise hashtags to generate a wider reach of interaction.
Like Facebook, Instagram is free to set up but will require regular updating to keep it relevant to your patients.
One of the main differences between the two platforms is that it’s not possible to share posts on Instagram. Also, Instagram focuses on visuals. So the most effective posts get their message across via an image or video.
What should you post on social media?
- Important information posts – examples include access to emergency dental services and telephone triage details. These give patients vital information at a time when it may be more difficult to speak to a member of the dental team
- Fun posts – these are likely to get more interaction by people and may even go viral! If it is possible, involve the practice staff using video or photos. These can show patients that although you take their dental care seriously, you also have a sense of humour. It will encourage people to engage with you or ‘like’ your posts
- Prevention advice – patients may not be able to get into the practice to see you. But your preventive message can still get out there. Getting your team on board to help you will make the posts more fun and engaging to patients
- Look at reputable pages for content to share (if the platform allows it). Examples include Denplan, the Oral Health Foundation, Dentistry Online, www.actionforhappiness.org as well as many healthy recipe sites.
Figures 1 and 2 are examples of some successful posts. Figure 2 is fun, which is likely to get patients to interact with it, but it also has a serious message.
Patients may access further important information by clicking the link in the description.
Going viral in lockdown
Lion House Dental Practice, in Hook Norton near Banbury, and its sister practice Buckingham Dental Practice, found social media extremely useful during the coronavirus pandemic.
With effective websites and a good social media following, the practices were already adept at good communication.
When one of their patients messaged via Facebook to ask for some advice, Sharan Kaur Dewgun, director of operations, suggested it might be a good way for them to interact and expand the information provided to more patients while the practices were closed.
‘While chefs, both professional and amateur, were sharing recipes to help people eat well during lockdown, we did the same for teeth! There were all kinds of issues to address; we had broken dentures and crowns, cracked teeth and inflamed gums.
‘One patient even pulled out his own tooth and only got in touch afterwards to ask for postoperative care advice!’
‘I think it was the fact that they knew it was a real dentist on the other side, answering real-time questions. That gave them confidence and prompted them to engage more,’ says Harbinder Singh Dewgun, principal dentist.
And ‘Dentist in Lockdown’, a weekly Facebook Live dental advice session, was born. With the videos shared on all the practices’ social media platforms.
Numerous people who tuned in after being unable to reach their own dentist have since joined the practices in recognition of the effort Harbinder and Sharan went to in order to help and support their patients at such a difficult time.
Loyalty from existing patients and sign ups from new patients grew out of an extraordinary situation.
Figures 3 and 4 are some of their content examples.
It is easy to start using social media.
Look at the user groups most suitable to you and your practice. Then launch one media channel at the time.
Less is more. Plan a few weeks’ worth of content and use any team meetings to think of a few posts together.
If your practice is a member of Denplan, there are lots of resources available to access through its free marketing tool, Simply Select. It can be trial and error, but remember the personal touch works.
This article first ran in Dentistry magazine. You can read the latest issue of Dentistry magazine here.
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