Virtual consultations have become increasingly important—now more than ever
by LeeAnn Peniche
Virtually everything these days is done ... well, . We’re living in an online, virtual, one-click world. Think about it: You can not only shop for the perfect outfit and order the meal you’ve been craving with just a couple of clicks but also even find real love online.
If you’ve ever trusted a dating app to help you find a compatible date or your perfect match, you know the power of connection that can be found virtually. Trusted, compatibility-based relationship apps such as eHarmony and Match are proof that people can build meaningful and long-term relationships starting with a screen. Millions of couples have found lasting love through these online platforms, which continue to be places that singles trust to enhance their happiness and love lives.
The bottom line: People do seek connection, companionship and compatibility virtually.
And that’s truly what it’s all about: connection. Even in the midst of health concerns, social distancing and safe-at-home orders, people still want to connect—maybe now even more than ever. They still want to build relationships, share a smile with friends and family via Zoom or FaceTime, and they still care deeply about relationships.
And when it comes to virtual examinations, the relationship is paramount. Even though it takes place through a screen, the virtual exam is still relationship-based, and its effectiveness and outcome are all in how you handle it.
Creating the perfect virtual consultation
It’s important to remember that the virtual consultation is not a screening; it’s the real deal. It is not only your practice’s opportunity to demonstrate that it is on trend and with the times but also a chance to wow potential patients from the first on-screen hello. Just like your in-person consults, the virtual consultation should reflect who you are, your level of patient care and service, and the attention to detail you put into everything you do.
Obviously, virtual consultations are based on the more limited tools we have with which to diagnose—typically, only photos provided by the patient. However, the process is fairly simple.
Patients are sent a link with instructions or an instructional video to give them the information needed to take the best at-home photos possible. While some photos are better than others, we must roll with the punches and do our best with the images and information we’re given. Always remember that if potential patients take the time and effort to contact us and take photos, they are committed and one step closer to a beautiful smile (and giving you the privilege of helping them achieve it).
Let’s be honest: In any climate, a beautiful smile is a desire and a confidence builder. While we can say that a smile makeover is a “want” versus a “need,” history has shown that parents will make sacrifices, work extra jobs and save for months or even years to provide a beautiful smile for their children. In addition to children, the adult market has boomed over the past 10 years with compromised “social six” treatments, selfie smiles and aligner treatment.
Did you know that 93 million selfies are taken per day?! That alone is a testament to the fact that people care more than ever about their smiles and appearance and will invest time and money into treatments that help build confidence. That’s why we have to make treatment as simple and accessible as possible, while still doing it with excellence as the end goal. The easier we make it on patients, the more likely they are to want and accept treatment. Keep treatment simple, accessible and personal and the patients will come.
A natural step toward doing this is simplifying access to treatment and offering added convenience in the form of virtual consults. These can be used for immunocompromised patients, those who are nervous about COVID-19 or who are too busy to make it into your office.
Of course, another “must” in making treatment simple and accessible is making sure we have removed barriers to financing and have streamlined the treatment process. When we do this, patients reward the orthodontic practice by accepting what we are offering—beautiful smiles and increased confidence.
Notice that I didn’t say “buying what we are selling,” because we are not selling. We are passionate believers in what we do and the difference we can make in people’s smiles and, more importantly, their confidence. We are more than smile fixers; we are confidence builders and life changers. If you take nothing else away from this, always remember that the work we do makes an impact and we must passionately communicate our beliefs that a smile makes a difference, that we are genuinely excited for our patients and that they’re not going to get better care anywhere else.
To offer that kind of care and service and instill that kind of confidence in our patients about our practice, we have to make sure to stay on trend and up to date with what’s happening in the world, be open to new ideas, new technologies and new ways of doing things, and offer options that other practices may not. This is a different time and generation than the one most of us grew up in, and while we may be set in our old ways, having an open mind and a willingness to try new and different ways of doing things has the potential to open new doors and attract an influx of new patients (especially those who have grown up in this virtual, modern world). Again, the virtual consultation is one way of doing this.
We can’t forget that the virtual consultation is not just a screen test—it’s a real, and very important, appointment. As a result, there are a few things that need to be kept in mind and acted upon to make it work.
First, as the saying goes, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” The virtual consult is your moment. Be amazing. Put as much effort (if not more) into making patients feel comfortable, expressing your excitement at being given the chance to help them achieve their dream smiles and assuring them that they are a priority and that you’ll give them the best service and care possible.
Here’s a real-world example: Have you ever been excited to see a blockbuster at the theater? You’ve heard all the hype and your expectations are high. You buy the tickets, shell out for the popcorn and candy and can’t wait for the action to start. But two hours later, you walk out with $50 less in your pocket and even less enthusiasm because the film was a total bust.
What happened? Your expectations didn’t match the reality. Don’t let that happen when it comes to your virtual exam. Put in the work and training so that the hype matches your patients’ expectations for an amazing, blockbuster experience.
Second, acknowledge and understand that people who choose a virtual exam are committed. As mentioned before, if someone is willing to take the time to contact you, fill out paperwork or online forms and take and submit their own photos, they aren’t playing around. Make sure to give them the credit and respect you would give any other patient who came to you for an in-office consult.
Third, track exams and results. Just because an exam is done virtually does not mean it’s any less of an exam. Tracking stats is as important as ever. We are seeing high case acceptance from these virtual exams, so they are nothing to turn your on-screen nose up at and should be taken seriously. Allow patients to easily schedule a virtual exam online via your website or through a new patient phone call.
Things to consider
Though the process begins differently, once the introduction materials are sent, treatment and the systems we use and rely upon are the same:
The introduction/collateral material.
Meet and greet.
Finally, make sure to market your virtual exam. It’s an added convenience and opportunity to connect and wow your potential patients. Don’t hide it—flaunt it. Make it more than just a subtle button on your site. Make the virtual exam perform its best by giving it even more screen time.
As movie lovers know, not every Oscar-winning performance is acknowledged as such. My favorite movie, Shining Through with Michael Douglas and Melanie Griffith, is one such film. While very few people have seen it, and while it was not promoted, marketed or nominated for an Academy Award, that doesn’t make it any less amazing. I personally consider it a best-kept secret in movies.
I often see the same thing in orthodontics. So many amazing, forward-thinking, tech-savvy orthodontists offer a high-quality, award-winning virtual exam but keep it a secret by not actively promoting it. So market it, promote it, hype it up and do more to get your virtual exam noticed.
The big question is, does this virtual consult have staying power? Will it stand the test of time or is it simply a 2020 necessity post-COVID? Do virtual exams enhance the offering for health care? And specifically, does a virtual exam complement an orthodontic practice or hurt it? Regardless of our personal beliefs on this topic and trend, we need to look to the consumers and take their thoughts and feelings into great consideration. Ultimately, only time will tell.
Do I think 50%, 80% or even 100% of the exams will eventually be virtual? The short answer is no. However, I do strongly believe that 15–20% of new patient exams will take this virtual form and that a large percentage of those virtual exams will result in an overall increase in new patient exams. I also believe virtual exams will net a high case acceptance when executed with excellence.
Excellence is key. It always is, and will always be, the greatest determinate of new patient starts and increased case acceptance. The greatest mistake I see is when a practice shortcuts the virtual exam. The success lies in the introduction, education, simplicity and process. Long story short: Don’t shortcut.
A “virtual” success
The takeaway in all this? Yes, our world is all about convenience. Everything we could possibly need or want is really no more than a few clicks away. You need a ride? Use Uber or Lyft. In need of groceries or something for dinner? Grubhub, DoorDash or your local grocery store delivery are at your service. Want some fashion or styling advice? Find fashion bloggers galore on Pinterest, Instagram and blogs. Doing research on a particular topic? Google it. Designers, florists, landscapers, house painters, even doctors? Point and click and chances are you’ll find one.
Pretty much everything can be found online or with some version of a virtual component. We still enjoy shopping and trying on clothes in person, eating at restaurants, driving automobiles and enjoying a rooftop happy hour with friends, but we’re also comfortable having outfits delivered to try on at home, ordering food online, surrendering the car keys and hopping on a Zoom or FaceTime call to catch up from the comfort of our couch.
But just because our world is connected doesn’t mean everyone feels a true sense of connection. The one thing that can’t be overlooked is the power of relationships and making those vital personal connections, even when it’s done virtually. That part is up to you.
When it comes to the virtual consult, while it does add convenience and has become somewhat of a necessity at present, it is not simply a point-and-click concept. It takes thought, intention, care and often an added level of commitment and service to make it work in a way that makes patients feel truly connected. Think of it as your chance to give your patients the screen time and spotlight they deserve, and use your knowledge, experience and passion to make smiles go viral