Articles by Nina Litovsky

Online Chat for your Medical or Dental Practice: Important Considerations

There are several factors you need to consider before implementing an online chat feature on your practice website:

Immediate Availability

When your patients see an online chat widget on your website, they will expect their inquiry to be answered immediately. This is because people are used to seeing online chats on e-commerce, banking and other service-oriented websites that have sales teams always available to interact with customers. So patients will have the same expectations of your practice. You need to have someone always available online to answer a chat request. A request that’s not answered on a timely manner will result in customer disappointment and failed expectations.

If you do not have a team member available online to promptly answer chat requests, consider implementing an online contact form instead of a chat. With a contact form, patients can send a message that your team can answer as soon as they can, but unlike chat, patients do not expect contact form requests to be answered immediately.

Mobile App

To make it easier to answer patients’ chat requests, you may need to use a chat service that offers a downloadable smartphone app. It’s easier to be available and respond to messages when the chat is installed on your or your team member’s phone. Check with your chat vendor if a mobile app is available.

WordPress Integration

If your website is built on WordPress platform, you need to ask the chat service provider if their chat widget integrates with WordPress easily. WordPress is one of the most popular website platforms and easily accommodates most third-party integrations. Still, it’s best to double check with your chat vendor about WordPress compatibility.

Spam Protection

Your chat will be prominently displayed on your website to make it as easy as possible for a patient to contact you. However, it will also be easier for spammers to contact you. You may receive all kinds of spammy chat requests from people trying to sell you something or trying to get information from you. Spam requests can come not only from human spammers but also from spam bots, automated programs that check your website for vulnerabilities and try to send automatic spam requests using contact tools on your website such as your email or contact form.

You need to ask the chat provider about their options for handling spammy chat submissions. Do they have a way to identify and filter out spam? Another important consideration: you may identify a spam request once it comes in, but you will also want to protect yourself from the identified spammer in the future. Does your chat vendor offer options for blacklisting or blocking identified spammers, so you do not receive a request from the same spammer again? You need to discuss this with your spam vendor and make sure that their spam identification and blocking methods work properly and can distinguish between spammy and legitimate requests. You want to block spam, but you also don’t want to block requests from legitimate patients that may appear like spam. So the algorithms that your vendor uses to fight spam must be smart and reliable.

HIPAA Compliance

Your chat submissions may contain exchange of sensitive or private information, so your chat software  should be compliant with HIPAA. Popular chat services that other small businesses use, such as Facebook Messenger or Google Hangouts, are usually not HIPAA-compliant and should not be used for your practice. You may need to look into a chat service that is designed specifically for medical or dental practices.

Chat Transcripts

It’s a good idea to save the transcript of the chat in your practice database and allow your patients to save the transcript in their records as well. Saving a transcript of the chat will be very helpful in case you or the patient need to refer to it later. Check with your chat provider if they offer an option to save chat transcripts and send them to patients in a way that is compliant with HIPAA.

Performance

Chat widgets often contain heavy or bloated code that is necessary to power the widget but that may significantly increase the loading time of your web page. Users (and Google) do not like web pages that load slowly, so you want to make your website load as fast as possible for a better customer experience. Your should check with your web developer and with your chat provider whether the chat widget would slow down your site, and if it would, ask what options are available to optimize the chat widget for better speed and performance.

SSL compatibility

SSL is an additional security layer that your web developer should install on your website to meet the latest best practices in web technology and SEO. Your can check for it yourself: if your website address starts with “https” then you have SSL installed on your website. However, additional adjustments may be needed for your chat widget to work with an SSL-enabled website. Check with your web developer and with your chat vendor whether your chat widget supports SSL.

Responsive Layout

Just like your website as a whole, your chat widget should have a responsive layout. It should look and work properly across all kinds of devices: desktop computers, tablets, smartphones. The layout of your chat widget should re-adjust to accommodate smaller or larger screens. The widget should have all the elements – the chat window, the Send button, and other necessary elements – visible and properly working on all kinds of devices, so your patients can use the chat easily from any device. Ask your chat provider if their widget is responsive and mobile-friendly.

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