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Inside Dentistry

October 2010, Volume 6, Issue 9
Published by AEGIS Communications


Market Your Practice Like a Dental Practice

Building a solid patient base relies on avoiding the most common mistakes of medical offices.

Fred Joyal

Here is an example of a truly bad appointment. First, the patient, John, calls the office and is put on hold for more than five minutes before engaging in a too-brief conversation with a curt, uncaring voice who tells him that the earliest he can be seen will be 3 weeks from now. When he expresses that he is in pain, the receptionist sighs and in an annoyed voice tells him to hold on. She puts him on hold for another 5 minutes before telling him that she can squeeze him in this afternoon at 3 p.m.

John arrives at the practice on time, only to have to wait in an uncomfortable, unattractive waiting room for more than an hour, thumbing through tattered magazines that are more than a year old and listening to televisions with the volume turned up far too high. When he is finally called in for his appointment, the entire thing feels rushed and impersonal. The doctor does not ask how John's family is doing or even refers to him by name. Everything in the office looks sterile and cold and smells like ammonia. No one is smiling or laughing.

The appointment is over before John realizes it and he leaves not understanding much of what the doctor told him. On his way out, the receptionist tells him that they do not take his insurance and he owes them $70 for the appointment.

This is not an experience anyone would enjoy. Yet, it is an experience that almost everyone has been through-in medical offices. The story above describes an average appointment at a medical facility. Although no one would want to provide a patient experience like John's, dentists often say they want their patients to view them the same way they view their medical doctors.

Hopefully, these dental professionals will not get what they want in this case. In the era of HMOs and managed care, patients view going to the doctor as something to be endured only when absolutely necessary. Most patients feel everything from apathy toward their physicians to downright hostility. The bottom line is that patients do not feel like their doctors really care about them, and they try to avoid going to the doctor whenever possible.

Of course, many patients also avoid going to the dentist, and even those who make their recall appointments do not always believe that their dentist cares about them or has their best interests in mind. Ironically, much of the reason for this is because of their experience with doctors. Many patients actually do view their dentist the same way they view their physician. And it is costing dentists production.

Dentists need to turn this perception around quickly in their patients, and the only way to do that is with effective practice marketing. This means making sure that the experience their patients have when they are in the practice is completely positive and unexpected. They need to be surprised with remarkable service, comfort-conscious dentistry, warmth, and friendliness. In short, do everything that medical facilities do not do.

This begins by demonstrating to patients that they matter. Take the time to talk to them during their appointment and learn things about their lives and their families. If they talk about a big camping trip they are planning for the summer or that they have season tickets for the Met, make note of that on their chart. The next time they come in, ask them how their trip went or what they thought of the recent production of Turandot. If they mention kids, write their names down. It is surprising how much asking a mother about her daughter's upcoming high school graduation can mean to her. To create an even stronger impression, offer to whiten her daughter's teeth for the graduation entirely free of charge. Very likely, that mother will become a loyal patient for life.

Even better, in providing patients with great care, you will begin to earn a solid reputation as a dentist who cares about your patients. If you laugh and joke with your patients as they come in, they will not dread their appointments and procrastinate when it is time to schedule their next examination.

At the same time, make sure the of fice does not look like a medical facility. The waiting area should be comfortable. The color of the walls and floors should be warm and calming. Pediatric practices should have cartoons or family programming on the TV and clean, unbroken toys in the waiting area. Cosmetic practices should invest in interior design and modern art.

The operatories should look sterile without smelling sterile. Aromatherapy can pay dividends by ridding the office of that clinical odor. It is also a great idea to invest in technology such as lasers and The Wand™ (Milestone Scientific, http://www.milestonescientific.com), which can help uneasy patients feel comfortable and rid the practice of alarming sights and sounds.

Remember, every aspect of the practice is part of the marketing- from the color of the walls to the way the receptionist answers the phone to the way treatment is presented to the patient. When in doubt as to the right way to do something, the author suggests looking at the way it is done in medical facilities and doing the exact opposite. The average medical facility is far more than simply a poor example of marketing. It absolutely is the perfect paradigm for terrible marketing. Anyone would be hard-pressed to create a worse impression than the one being made in medical offices every day.

Dentists are in a position to truly surprise their patients with a great dental experience. However, to do this, dentists must first embrace the fact that their practices are not medical facilities and do all they can to set themselves apart from one. Do not give your patients a reason to view you the same way they do their physician. Give them a reason to view you as a dentist-and to view dentists as caring individuals.

About the Author

Fred Joyal is the founder of 1-800-DENTIST and one of the industry's leading experts in dental consumer marketing. His recently published book, Everything is Marketing: The Ultimate Strategy for Dental Practice Growth , is available at http://www.goaskfred.com.


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