Patients are looking for you. There are apps that help them find you

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Patients are looking for you. There are apps that help them find you

Travels in Williamsburg, Va., inspire Hygiene Tribune Editor in Chief Patricia Walsh, RDH, to thoughts of no-shows, patients in pain and some of the latest offerings in scheduling apps. (Photo: Patricia Walsh, Hygiene Tribune)
Patricia Walsh, RDH, Hygiene Tribune Editor in Chief

Patricia Walsh, RDH, Hygiene Tribune Editor in Chief

Thu. 8 October 2015


Summer comes early to Colonial Williamsburg. Poppies, our nation’s brilliant symbol of remembrance, are in full bloom by Memorial Day. I just love the town’s wigmaker’s shop, which also would have doubled as the town barber shop. It was fashionable for well-to-do young ladies to have their heads shaved at such shops prior to being fitted for a wig. By 1775, the year this living-history site is modeled on, the barber no longer extracted teeth.

In 1745, by royal decree, tooth extractions and bloodletting could be done only by physicians. It was the French king who first decided this was the right way to go; England’s George II soon followed suit.

This was my first long road trip in many years. It struck me how simplified traveling had become. I gleefully zoomed past the Virginia toll booths at 65 mph with my EZ Pass. My “navigation lady” quickly directed me to a gas station when I was lost in the woods of Quantico. The Marriott app allowed me to check in for extra points in advance. Ten years ago, it is unlikely I would have understood what WiFi actually was, and an app was still a mystery. If our Colonial forbearers had spotted me staring down at a rectangular lighted object, it would have been an episode right out of Star Trek.

My thoughts soon turned to the business of dentistry — and appointment making. If you were living in a small town in Virginia where there was no physician, the barber would still step up and extract your tooth for you, royal decree or not. Unless, of course, his street pole was painted blue and white versus red and white. Blue and white stripes signified that the business did not involve blood.

When patients are in pain, they wish to be seen right away. We live in a mobile society, and it’s become more and more common for people not to have an established dentist. I could write a book about societal changes and the uptick in last-minute dental-appointment cancellations. At one time or another, we have certainly all muttered: “That no-show space could have been used by a patient with urgent needs.”

When I returned home from my holiday, I read an article in my local newspaper about a medical app that lets patients schedule their own appointments online. Patients also could fill out registration forms and verify insurance acceptance. While the concept seemed great, the $250-per-month, per-doctor price tag did not. I decided to investigate further. Another app offered a starting price of about $40 a month with each individual staff member an added $10. The more costly application offered real-time appointment slots with computer integration, enabling patients to instantly grab the time slot they wished. Patients aren’t seeing your entire schedule, just a short list of available appointments. A patient in pain will drive a long ways if it means being seen that same day or on a Saturday.

These applications seem so much easier than surfing through the Yellow Pages and making countless calls. Plus, there is the added stress of guessing if your insurance is accepted.

During regular business hours, it seems that there is only one “instant-message” of difference between the higher-cost and lower-cost app service: patients directly placing their names into an office scheduling software system. Unless the receptionist is extremely busy, out for lunch, or just not paying attention — I don’t see where there would be much of a time lag between a request for an appointment and a confirmation when comparing Everseat and ZocDoc.

In terms of hygienists working on commission, they are typically tethered to their cell phone and prefer to be the single “point of contact.” Regardless of the pay structure, hygienists with too many holes in their schedule run the risk of losing office hours. While ZocDoc may enable a patient flying in from Singapore to schedule and confirm an appointment at 2 a.m., when an office is closed, I doubt this particular app would have a big edge over Everseat to “get the patient seen sooner.” Also, while my knowledge of computing is minimal, it seems to me some programs may offer less of a chance for a dental office computer to become hacked or potentially infected with a subscriber’s virus. Internet security questions will be prevalent as more and more scheduling apps become available.

Most of the scheduling apps have a dropdown menu for medical or dental specialties. I liked the Everseat presentation that allows for the bio and photo of the hygienist to be added separately from the dentist’s information. On one of the sites, a dropdown search yielded the word “Dysport’ under specialties. Still being in “dental-think” mode, my immediate reaction was “what the heck is dysport? One of those new multicolored mouthguards for hockey players?” I am now taking great delight in the fact that I am not old enough to be familiar with every popular facial filler available at the dermatologist.

Having the name of your practice visible for the tech-savvy patient has become increasingly important. It needs to be either in a search-engine return for the prospective patient or a convenient download application for the established patient. Wouldn’t it make sense to have your “appointment-app” logo highly visible while patients are tap-tap-tapping onto their cell phone in the waiting room? Tech attracts tech. I would even add the app symbol to all print advertising and the office website.

Having a dental office website with an “appointment-request” option is not the same as merely clicking onto a visible available-appointment time.

Many hospitals are already starting to offer this app option. It’s just a matter of time before dentistry offers patients more control over their appointment slots.

A patient cell phone app in the pipeline is being developed by According to its website, “59 percent of GenY respondents said they would switch doctors for one with better online access.” A “schedule-now” widget by LocalMed gives your office website direct integration with Eaglesoft or Dentrix.

Patients also can use this widget to schedule appointments through insurance company dentist directories. Current cost is $99 a month for two providers.

Following are brief descriptions of a few other reliable medical apps that might be of interest to dental professionals. Most are free from iTunes.

BetterDoctor ( may not support making appointments online, but it does give you the option of Yelp reviews and supports “location finder” on cell phones. According to the BetterDoctor website, “No-show rates for same-day appointments are half that for appointments made three weeks in advance.”

The Medvana app ( finds the lowest price for prescriptions near you. I have first-hand experience of a young patient pulling up this app while still seated in the dental chair. In the time it took for the doctor to write up the chart, she already knew which pharmacy to go to. The app is in English and Spanish.

The First Aid app by the American Red Cross, also in English and Spanish, uses simple language and icons to help with medical emergencies. It includes a preparation area for all sorts of emergencies.

iTriage is a search app covering a broad spectrum of health care, including doctors, symptoms and care facilities. Think of it as an interactive WebMD. You tap on a body part and a list of symptoms appears. It can direct you to the appropriate specialist or facility. It supports 20 languages.

I’m looking forward to any future automations developed for the business of dentistry, but also those that will assist in the improvement of patient care. What a joy it would be to “bump” a cell phone to a patient’s phone to acquire their list of medications and allergies. Right now I patiently wait while the patient (often elderly) pulls out a crumpled piece of folded paper from a wallet. It is usually full of crossed-out lines and scribbles, leaving me to guess at the list I have to transcribe into my computer.

Pedicine ( has an initial download that is free, but adding additional family members is $1.99 each. This app stores useful family medical histories in a safe and convenient way.

Who can think straight enough to remember surgery dates and every allergy when sitting stressed out in a waiting room? Your phone can.

This article was published in Hygiene Tribune U.S. Edition, Vol. 8 No. 5, October 2015 issue.


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