Let’s Get Physical…again!


A couple of blogs ago I wrote about the importance of not sacrificing effective patient communication when deciding to automate your systems. 

Recalls is one of the processes that I have seen many practices opt to automate. However I am yet to find a practice whose results in booking recalls actually improve when they shift from physical mail or phone-calls, to SMS messaging or email.

There are key reasons why physical mail is better, and they centre around human behaviour.

SMS – Texts are fleeting in our busy days. People read texts as they come in, and often are not free to address them immediately. There is no way to flag texts to respond properly at a later time, so this reminder asking them to call and schedule their recall appointment is quickly forgotten. SMS messaging is, therefore, the least effective method for recalling patients.

Email – Business people who have email as one of their primary modes of communication have established the habit of checking their emails regularly. However there will still be a large portion of dental practice patient bases that do not check their emails with any regularity at all. Even busy business-people need to have developed effective strategies around responding to their emails in order to address each one effectively. People rarely search through old emails to ensure they have followed up with everything. Once your email drops down the list of received emails, you are forgotten.

Physical Mail – There are many benefits to physical mail that still makes it one of the most effective methods of recalling patients.

  • Handling physical mail brings in to play another sense (touch) other than just sight
  • Physical mail can be placed somewhere as a constant reminder to the patient to call and follow up
  • Whereas with email you will never achieve 100% open rate, every person does retrieve their mail
  • Physical mail is perceived as more personal than email and SMS
  • You have greater capacity to incorporate your branding in physical mail

My method of recalling patients at my practice was to initially encourage all patients to schedule their recalls ahead of time, assuring them that they would receive a reminder phone-call a week prior. For those that did not, they were sent their reminder on a tooth-shaped postcard that had a magnet attached to the back. They could attach it to their fridge and serve as a continual reminder to contact us for an appointment. The month they were due was part of the message on the postcard, so there would be an awareness of being ‘overdue’, thereby adding a sense of urgency the longer the postcard remained on the fridge. I started this recall system when I initially purchased my practice in 2003, and continued with it for the whole 10 years of ownership, because it was successful. Many patients called to book their recalls saying that they were “constantly seeing the reminder on the fridge”. New patients called stating they “saw the tooth on a friend’s fridge”.

Part of offering a great service to patients is to make it easy for them to do business with you. This includes facilitating their scheduling of recalls. You will get greater success from direct mail so I suggest you GET PHYSICAL!