Telemedicine marketing checklist: 10 things dentists should do

Marketer Rachael Sauceman offers examples of how marketing your telemedicine options attract more patients to your practice in post-COVID times.

Marketer Rachael Sauceman discusses safe and effective marketing evolving after the COVID-19 crisis

To say that the COVID-19 pandemic has been a catalyst for change across all industries is an understatement. Earlier this year, dental practices across the nation were struggling to maintain revenue while abiding by state regulations, as well as recommendations set forth by medical associations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Dental Association, and others. Many states deemed emergency dental care essential — and at this stage, all states have reinstated elective dental care, according to the ADA’s Center for Professional Success.1

Although this reopening is somewhat of a “return to normal” at the surface level, it’s safe to say that dental practices of all types will continue to face challenges as they work to deliver quality care in a way that offers a safe environment for patients, doctors, and staff members. One advancement we’ve seen in this area is the rapid shift toward virtual consultations.

Across the entire healthcare vertical, we’re seeing an unprecedented adoption of telemedicine as a way to continue serving patients. Telemedicine has long been a trend as younger generations prefer to access care on their own terms, but red tape from regulations and payers, as well as growing pains from the implementation process, have held back a lot of practices from adopting telemedicine. But in today’s environment, telemedicine is helping many practices and patients weather the storm.

Whether you’ve implemented a tele-dentistry solution already or you’re considering one, ensuring patients are aware of this new offering is just as crucial as implementing the technology. This 10-step checklist offers guidance to help market virtual appointments from your dental practice.

  1. Update your website.

Especially during the COVID-19 pan-demic, prospective patients are looking for detailed information about your practice’s current operations. And because different patients may consume information differently, it’s important to have your COVID-19 statement and telemedicine offerings accessible in multiple ways.

Figure 1: This Facebook post from Dentists of East Brainerd
lets patients know about their new service

If you already have a COVID-19 statement on your website, be sure to provide information regarding telemedicine options from that page — and while it may seem like a big project if you’re in a hurry to add virtual appointment details to your website, it’s important to have a specific page dedicated to telemedicine offerings. Although your existing patients would probably search for your specific practice, this may also be an opportunity to gain new patients who are uncomfortable returning to in-office appointments. Having a dedicated telemedicine page ensures you can capture both types of searches.

We like this example from Aspen Dental.2 The Virtual Care page is linked directly from the homepage in an easy-to-find section. The page addresses cost, scheduling options, and explains how a virtual appointment works.

  1. Make sure patients understand what to expect.

The more questions you can answer for patients in advance, the more likely they are to be comfortable with a virtual appointment. Some common questions you might be able to address in an FAQ section on your telemedicine page include:

  • Are you currently seeing existing patients only, or can new patients schedule a virtual appointment?
  • What types of issues can be addressed with a virtual appointment?
  • What types of dental problems are considered to be emergent?
  • Will my insurance cover this appointment?
  • How do I schedule a virtual appointment?
  • What is the process to connect with a provider at the time of my appointment?
  1. Contact existing patients.

Since existing patients are more familiar with your pre-COVID-19 processes and procedures, they may be unaware that telemedicine is an option. Send an email with details and a link to your new telemedicine page through an existing platform if you have one, or consider reaching out to patients individually with short phone calls.

  1. Promote on social media.

Although it can’t be your only form of outreach, be sure to notify your followers on social media.

Since the average post on a Facebook business page only reaches 6.4% of all the people who like the page,3 it’s a good idea to consider boosting your Facebook posts. If you’d like to implement a more sophisticated marketing plan, you may decide to invest in ads on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter — or whichever platforms currently draw the most engagement. Social media ads not only help your content display to more of your existing followers, but also draw in prospective patients who may not be familiar with your practice.

  1. Consider Google Search Ads.

Search ads offer highly effective marketing because they’re displayed to patients and prospective patients as they’re actually searching for you. As dental offices reopen before some people may feel comfortable with making a trip to a physical office, there’s a good chance that some of those individuals may search for telemedicine consultations. By implementing Google Search Ads for your teledentistry offerings, you’ll have a high likelihood of pulling this type of patient to your website.

Figure 2: Using search ads on Google Ads, you can ensure that your telehealth service shows up exactly when patients are looking for you

For example, dentists can’t target people who are experiencing tooth pain on Facebook. But they can target people who are searching for a virtual appointment for tooth pain on Google Search.

If you are rolling out a new virtual appointment offering, we suggest that you take these steps:

  • Start with branded advertising. Existing patients and those who may already be familiar with your brand will likely search for your practice specifically. Having an ad that references your virtual offerings will ensure those individuals are made aware of this new option.
  • Create ads to answer FAQs. As a dental specialist, the types of problems you may see are fairly specific. Do patients often ask you about specific types of tooth pain? Create ads that target the types of concerns patients may search for.
  • Implement more general ads. Since some patients may simply search for virtual dental appointments, teledentistry visits, etc., ensure some of your ads focus on these general terms and topics.
  • Broaden geographic targeting. While advertising for in-office visits should be more targeted, patients from more distant or remote locations may be interested in your virtual consultations.
  1. Be where your customers are going for information.

COVID-19 has changed essentially everything — the way we communicate, the way we work, our purchasing habits, and so on.  It has also impacted the way users search for and consume content.

Data from WordStream shows that search volume is down, but content consumption on the Google Display Network and YouTube is booming.4 The Google Display Network enables advertisers to show ads on content throughout the web, like local and national news websites, lifestyle blogs, YouTube videos, mobile apps, and games, and may be a good place for your practice to advertise.

Figure 3: Patients are spending more time surfing the web, viewing news and videos, and shopping online at this time

You may also choose to begin creating video content that you can upload to YouTube and embed into blogs or relevant pages on your website. Cell phone cameras can record video of decent enough quality without having to invest in high-dollar productions. (Online retailers offer cell phone tripods and/or light rings that can enhance the quality of your video.) Topics to consider include:

  • Educating patients about the telemedicine platform you’re using. Walk them through what to expect during a virtual consultation, and be sure to cover topics such as why you chose the particular platform you’re using, as well as patient privacy. Once you’ve uploaded this video to YouTube, be sure to embed it on your teledentistry webpage.
  • Introducing yourself to prospective new patients (if you’re taking them). Talk about the immediate needs for telemedicine as it relates to COVID-19, and explain your plans for the future. Offer an overview of the types of services you offer, and let patients know what they can expect during a visit to your practice.
  • Offering helpful tutorials that can prevent patients from needing emergent care. Do your patients have common symptoms and complaints? Could many of them be solved with better dental hygiene or compliance in their treatment plan? Make videos to address these topics.

Even after COVID-19 is no longer a consideration, video content on YouTube can benefit your search rankings.

  1. Update your local listings.

Did you know that more than 50% of searches result in no clicks whatsoever to a website?5 This means many prospective patients may take action by calling your practice or gaining other pertinent information directly from listings on Google, Bing, Yahoo! Maps, and Google My Business. Be sure to provide information about COVID-19 and virtual appointments in those listings (and keep track of what you’ve updated in a spreadsheet, so you can remove the COVID-19 details when appropriate).

Figure 4: Google My Business has offered new options to medical practices to ensure that patients can easily access telehealth information on Google Maps

Google My Business is also currently allowing providers to add two unique links to local listings: a link to COVID-19 information and another to teledentistry information on your website. If your practice operates in more than one location, you’ll need to add the links to each profile, all of which can be found in your Google My Business dashboard.

  1. Update Meta information on your website.

Meta information is the blue link text and descriptive text underneath that appears directly in search results listings. While many websites have default Meta information that is pulled from the site’s page title and content, it can be customized to offer more detail for searchers. Meta information is also crawled by search engines, meaning that it can increase the likelihood of your website appearing to prospective patients.

Figure 5: Dentists of East Brainerd has updated their website’s Meta information and provided a specific page on their website about teledentistry.

Although you may not need to update every page on your site, be sure key pages like your homepage, provider pages, and location pages make note of virtual appointment offerings.

  1. Set up a direct mail campaign.

Although it is not as quick to implement as a digital marketing campaign, direct mail often generates good results. Whether you are notifying existing patients about your new offering or trying to reach prospective patients in your community, direct mail can be an effective approach.

  1. Let patients know about in-person care.

Not all care can be done virtually, especially in dental specialties. Many patients will understand that while they may be able to set up a virtual consultation with a dentist, they will eventually need to come into your office for a procedure.

Consider adding some information to your website that complements your telemedicine services, helping patients understand what precautions you are taking to keep them safe if and when they need to come in for care.

Dental365™ in New York has a great example detailing the exact precautions they are taking to ensure that patients are safe.6 This practice has even gone the extra mile by including a video in the actual office showing their staff participating in safety measures. Patients want to know that you are taking steps to protect them from infection and that best practices, like social distancing and mask-wearing, will be enforced by your front-office staff.

While you may feel as though you can explain these precautions over the phone or in a telemedicine visit, some patients may never even reach out and pay for a telemedicine consultation if they don’t feel like their entire care experience will be safe. By explaining your virtual and in-office services upfront, you can gain a competitive advantage and answer many doubts upfront that may be a deterrent for your patients.

Marketing your telemedicine options is just one part of your digital workflow. Read Dr. Justin Moody’s article on how going digital can make your practice more efficient, predictable and reliable here: https://implantpracticeus.com/digital-workflow-is-different-for-everyone/

Rachael Sauceman is the Head of Strategic Initiatives for Full Media, a Chattanooga, Tennessee-based digital marketing agency specializing in healthcare. Full Media offers a full spectrum of digital marketing capabilities within the healthcare space, including website design, online advertising, SEO, patient experience optimization, and analytics.

  1. ADA Center for Professional Success. COVID-19 State Mandates and Recommendations. https://success.ada.org/en/practice-management/patients/covid-19-state-mandates-and-recommendations. Accessed July 8, 2020.
  2. Aspen Dental. Virtual Care. https://www.aspendental.com/virtualcare. Accessed. July 8, 2020.
  3. Bain P. 10 Need to Know Facebook Marketing Stats for 2019. Social Media Today. https://www.socialmediatoday.com/news/10-need-to-know-facebook-marketing-stats-for-2019/547488/. Posted February 5, 2019. Accessed July 8, 2020.
  4. Irvine M. New Data Reveals PPC Ad Campaigns Are Rebounding. Wordstream. https://www.wordstream.com/blog/ws/2020/05/04/ppc-rebound-covid-19-data. Updated July 2, 2020. Accessed July 8, 2020.
  5. Nguyen G. Now, more than 50% of Google searches end without a click to other content, study finds. Search Engine Land. https://searchengineland.com/now-more-50-of-google-searches-end-without-a-click-to-other-content-study-finds-320574. Posted August 14, 2019. Accessed July 8, 2020.
  6. Dental 365. https://www.godental365.com/about-us/why-dental-365/. Accessed July 8, 2020.

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