Innovation and optimization have completely transformed how orthodontic practices do business over the past decade. From advertising to aligners to remote consultations, if you’re not innovating, you’re losing the battle for new patients to other orthodontists in your market.

At HIP, we like to see ourselves leading the charge on innovation. After all, we created PracticeBeacon, the CRM for orthodontists that uses tech to automate follow-up and turn leads into patients! But we feel the need to throw a bit of cold water on one emerging technology trend that we’re not ready to recommend to you — phone-answering AI services.

AI-powered receptionist services are a tempting offer — promising 24/7 voice communication to streamline appointment scheduling and answer patient questions. While the technology is evolving, orthodontic practices should be critical in evaluating just how well this technology can perform in a field where customer experience is crucial, like orthodontics.

Once we peel back the layers of potential and promises made by AI developers, significant challenges come to light, ranging from latency issues and inaccuracies to the lack of human touch in patient care. All of these raise questions about how ready AI-powered receptionist services are for deployment in orthodontic practices.

After evaluating some of the solutions on the market to see if they’re ready for our clients, we discovered that it’s not yet time to hand your front desk over to an AI-controlled robot. Here’s why:

The Issues With Using AI Voice Calls For Patient Interactions

Call Latency

Perhaps the most glaring issue with AI-based voice calls for customer service is latency. Many of the apps we’ve seen require up to 5 seconds to reply, even to simple questions. This disrupts the natural flow of a conversation, giving the effect of something like a next-generation robocall — better than before, but far from human.

Add to that the fact that studies show that longer pauses make people think you’re dishonest, and it’s easy to see how long latency could make potential patients feel uneasy.

Building trust with your patients and making them feel appreciated from the first moment is the most essential step in starting new patients. Even a few seconds of awkward pauses could be enough to cast a shadow on the new patient experience and cost you business.

Cross-Talking & Interruptions

In addition to slow response times, even the most sophisticated AI voice receptionist technologies have a hard time operating in a non-linear way. For example, when a client asks an AI-powered receptionist a question but then tries to clarify or change the question, the AI can get confused and reply only to one part of your question.

Additionally, when a client interrupts the AI customer service agent, it may continue to talk over the top of them or awkwardly interrupt itself and pick up where it left off. It’s a bit unpredictable. The models are generally capable of handling straightforward question-and-answer formats. Still, all it takes is one slip-up for the mask to be pulled off of your AI assistant and leave a potential patient feeling frustrated, or even deceived, instead of valued.

A phone call is different from AI-powered chats, where chatbots deal with messages one at a time in sequence. The fluid nature of real-life conversations pushes the limits of AI’s capabilities and risks misunderstandings that threaten to damage your relationship with your patients.

Understanding & Accuracy

Have you ever tried to use voice commands on your iPhone, only to have Siri mishear what you’ve said? Whether it’s Apple, Amazon, or Microsoft, the biggest companies in the world can’t keep their AI assistants from getting tripped up by accents, slang, or background noise. So, how well do you think your virtual AI receptionist company will do when an overwhelmed mom calls in on speakerphone from an SUV full of kids?

Healthcare conversations can get complex, and if Alexa is ordering dozens of dollhouses when the TV’s volume is too loud, do you expect AI to handle complex questions about braces or dental care?

Imagine the frustration your patients will feel when they try to change their appointment and add a quick question about their treatment, but the AI either ignores the change or misses the question.

It’s not just annoying — it directly impacts your ability to provide quality care. These AIs, as smart as they’re supposed to be, often miss the mark in conversations that don’t follow a simple script. A good rule of thumb is that if Apple and Amazon haven’t cracked it, chances are a receptionist AI isn’t a good call for your practice.

Patient Trust & Comfort

Of course, it’s important that your patients can schedule appointments and get answers to their questions. But customer support isn’t just about getting answers. Your patients expect to feel heard and understood. When you’re greeted by a warm human voice, it helps build trust. You know someone on the other end gets it, ready to listen and help.

Even if the issues with latency and accuracy weren’t an issue, the lack of a human touch could lead to worse outcomes, not to mention unhappy patients. Imagine a patient sharing their concerns about their braces, only to get a robotic response that totally misses the point. It’s not just awkward; it feels like your office doesn’t care enough or is too cheap to put an actual human in the role.

The quality of your AI call could make your patients second-guess the quality of care you’re providing. Once you start to lose your patients’ trust, they’ll feel less comfortable with you, which means fewer referrals and lukewarm reviews. You need your patients to feel valued and understood, not like they’re a number in a chart. So, while AI might be the future, we’ve got to ask ourselves if it’s the kind of future we want for something as personal as healthcare.

Reliability Over Innovation

In an orthodontic office, every call matters. Whether it’s a potential patient or an existing one, their business matters to you, and creating a consistent, reliable experience is more important than testing out the next big thing.

We love innovation at HIP. We pushed our partners to add teledentistry services before it was trendy. We realized that digital ads are the only way to effectively scale a practice in today’s market. We also preach the effectiveness of automation and software in optimizing orthodontic practices and enabling exponential growth.

Clear and effective communication is critical to your process. An automated text message appointment reminder can be written with some warmth to make it appear personal. Plus, it doesn’t have to overcome latency, interruptions, or speech recognition. It delivers convenience to your patients without making them feel manipulated or invaluable. The current batch of AI phone call services doesn’t meet that same standard of care and puts your business at risk.

Conclusion: Avoid AI Voice Receptionists…For Now!

We strongly believe that AI voice calls aren’t ready for the orthodontics market. Demos can be edited to turn heads and showcase the potential of AI calls, but the true test lies in real-world application. Until the technology is proven to deliver consistently positive experiences without mistakes that you’ll need to apologize for, we recommend approaching this with caution.

As mentioned, we’re committed to staying at the forefront of technological advancements. We recognize AI’s potential to enhance the performance of orthodontic practices. Still, we believe that AI voice call technology needs to improve before it is ready for deployment with our partners. As soon as AI technology evolves to provide an exceptional experience for your clients, we’ll be the first to integrate it into our PracticeBeacon software.

Innovation for the sake of innovation doesn’t accomplish anything. And your practice doesn’t need to be the guinea pig for every new technology. As it stands today, voice AI is still finding its voice. Before you hand over your precious customers to a robot, be 100% sure AI can handle the pace and complexity of real-life patient needs without tripping up. Until then, sticking with a human touch isn’t moving too slow — it’s simply smart business.