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Orthodontists Are Finding “There’s an App for That” Angela Weber



by Angela Weber

Digital marketing tools like Web sites and e-mail communication are already common tools for orthodontic practices, and even Facebook pages are becoming more widespread. But in this realm of technological advances, apps for smartphones are a new frontier. More and more small businesses, including independent medical practices, are launching their own apps. Should your practice be next?

The bar to entry for your practice having its own app is lower and less expensive than you probably think. It might also be more necessary. Considering about 200 million Americans, or 65 percent of the U.S. population, will have either a smartphone or a tablet by 2015, an app for your practice might one day be as essential as a Web site.

To back up a little for the uninitiated, an app is short for "application," the name for a program that runs on smartphones. The most popular tend to be games, but these apps can also be tools to help people count calories, make to-do lists or post messages to social networking sites. Many businesses have developed their own apps as smartphone extensions of their Web sites, and for certain users who are always on the go, these mobile apps even supersede the main sites.

For example, Amazon and eBay apps allow users to browse goods and make purchases via apps right on their smartphones, and the user experience is customized for the handheld touch screen. These days, just about every decent-sized Web site offers an app version.

If your practice were to get an app, what would it include? To decide, consider what would be helpful to your current patient base and the fact that they'll turn to your app when they need information in a pinch. In general, the app should make your patients' lives easier and make their treatment as convenient as possible. Just as with Amazon's and eBay's apps, your app should be an extension of your Web site in a convenient format for mobile use. Some ideas of things to include are:
  • Contact info and hours
  • Location maps
  • E-mail contact forms
  • Doctor and staff profiles
  • Emergency and after-hours information
  • Informative care videos
  • Facebook, Twitter and news updates
Granted, all this information is available from any computer connected to the Internet, so you might wonder why you need an app for it. The app also offers an improved functionality and ease of use for patients accessing your site through a mobile device. Another reason is because if your patients are on their phones a lot, that's where you should be, too. In addition, an app will position your practice as forward-thinking and tech savvy, something that will particularly appeal to your teenage patients and their busy parents.

What's more, apps offer you the ability to conveniently reach out to patients with practice news updates and treatment care reminders. Patients have easy access to your practice and your treatment guidance will benefit their outcome.

And even when it's not being used, the app can serve a marketing purpose. The app occupies a space on your patients' phones in the form of a small logo. This is the logo they'll see every day, many times a day, whenever they look at their phones. Since they are being constantly reminded of your practice, they will be more likely to think of you when a referral opportunity comes along.

To get started on building your app, you have a few options. One avenue is to hire a programmer to create a customized app for your practice. Just as with any other business service, you can find an app developer by asking colleagues for referrals. A good fit would be a developer that has experience in the health-care industry and understands an app's patient benefits.

Another option is to build your own app with a number of sites that have sprung up for this very purpose – to give small businesses an affordable way to gain a foothold on consumers' smartphones.

Once the app is designed, it's time to distribute it, and your developer or app-making site should be able to help you through this process. Even when apps are free like yours, all apps for iPhones and iPads need to be distributed through Apple's iTunes store. Apps for the Android operating system don't have a centralized distribution point, but the largest one is Google's Android Market. Apple has a more complex approval process than Google does and might reject apps for style and technical issues.

Once your app is ready for download, you can start publicizing it on your Web site. Mention it to your patients when they come in the office. Many will be eager to download it. It's a fun way for them to connect with your practice.

If you are not ready to enter the world of app development, an alternative solution is to make sure your Web site works well with the small screens of mobile devices. Your Web site designer can create a mobile option for your current site or create a separate mobile site altogether.

Apps are new tools which can add a touch of tech-savvy excitement to your practice. Just as the number of Web users grew in the 1990s, the number of smartphone users is only going to keep growing. Now is as good a time as any to adapt to this new technology. Over time, apps for the health-care industry will come into greater abilities. Their potential is only beginning to be explored, and by starting now, your practice will be already out in front.

Author’s Bio
Angela Weber is the marketing director for OrthoSynetics (OSI), a business services firm that assists orthodontic and dental practices utilizing a full-service, turnkey management approach to address all non-clinical practice functions to gain better efficiencies and profitability. Services are also offered on an a la carte basis. For more information, visit www.orthosynetics.com or e-mail aweber@orthosynetics.com.
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