Major change is here: Why shifting patient demands are endangering your practice

Dentistry is in the midst of being disrupted by DSOs, DIY orthodontics, and more. Here’s how your dental practice can meet shifting patient demands.

As I write this, I’m looking out the window of my office. A storm is coming, and I hadn’t even noticed. The sky is darkening. My windows are rattling with the subtle boom of thunder just over the horizon. Drops of rain are dotting the windows, obscuring my view. It’s all a wonderfully fitting metaphor for the cleansing change that has arrived in the dental industry.

We’ve hit an evolutionary shift—patient expectations and behavior are changing the landscape. Dentistry used to be dominated by independent practices. That was the only option available. But no industry is immune to disruption. Where loyalty used to reign, retail consumers (yes, dentistry is absolutely part of retail, despite the fact it’s a service-based industry) value convenience, trust, and price. Buyers can now make demands with their dollars, and companies have no choice but to acquiesce.

The current “retail apocalypse”1 is reducing former industry giants to ashes, and these cautionary tales seem to be retold on almost a daily basis. Companies that used to rule the roost—Sears, Kmart, RadioShack, Kodak, J.C. Penney, Macy’s—no longer do. The innovation of Amazon, Wayfair, and other online/alternative retailers have changed the game.

Disruption in dentistry

I said previously that no industry is immune to disruption. Ours is no exception. The last decade has presented patients with a myriad of choices that better answer their needs compared to what previously existed. Like it or not, today’s dental patients are busy. They are distracted. They are in a hurry. And with the proliferation of sleazy marketing tactics and online misinformation or “fake news,” they may no longer trust you. They don’t respond to monochromatic Yellow Pages ads (what are those?), nor do they base decisions that involve the health of their families on boasts, empty claims of being “the best,” or flimsy coupons left on their doorsteps.

This didn’t just happen overnight, either. Cultural, technological, and economic shifts have led us to this moment. Although you might have had your head down as the storm rolled in, institutional money has been lasering in on these evolving wants and needs. As conditions became right, it struck. Enter DSOs. Enter private equity. Enter DIY orthodontics. Enter YouTube influencers.

While these might seem like disparate entities, they all probably know more about modern dental patients and how to get in front of them consistently than you do. They know that the modern patient responds to convenience, lower prices, and those who understand the factors of influence.

Convenience: This is why corporate drugstore chains such as CVS and Walgreens now offer dental services in their stores2 and DSOs now comprise 20% of the dental market.3

Lower prices: This is how an individual can order orthodontic devices through a website without ever talking with a trained and licensed professional.

Those who understand the factors of influence: In our modern age, trust is a precious commodity, and it’s not earned the way it used to be. Today’s winners know how to appeal to the right emotions in the right way at the right time.

Simply put, people don’t just look at a neighborhood dental practice as the only or best option. Treatment has been commoditized and simplified, and that diploma on your office wall isn’t enough to sway minds and wallets.

Controlling the conversation

But guess what? Even though Goliath has moved in down the street and is luring patients away left and right, you still can win this fight. Grab your slingshot, David, and let’s talk about some ways to evolve into a modern practice that answers the needs of today’s dental patient. Taking fast action is key.

First, you need to start using modern methods of marketing. One way is to educate your community about why you’re the best and only option for each family’s dental health. The problem is that the general public has lost sight of why they need a trained, qualified professional in their corner and why your experience trumps potentially cheaper and more convenient alternatives. In other words, why are they choosing to get potentially lower-quality care by going with DIY orthodontics or dental services at a pharmacy? By providing this education, you’re positioning yourself as the professional. This will imbue trust in patients.

Taking action

Although there’s no shortage of tactics to achieve visibility in your local market, start by creating relevant, high-quality content and pushing it out to your community.

1. Use photos to your advantage

The whole idea is to “control the conversation,” which allows you to stay in front of your patients’ eyes, ears, and attention spans (and influence subsequent decisions). A great way to do this is by sharing images of you, your office, your staff, etc. You can even use before and after photos to demonstrate your clinical skills—another trust builder. Upload these to photo-sharing sites, photo blog sites, directories, etc. If you just want one place to start, use Flickr, a social photo-sharing site that definitely influences your Google rankings.

2. Create YouTube videos

One of the highest-leverage and lowest-cost authority-building opportunities is creating YouTube videos. Even if your videos are simply shot, helpful tips are a great start. Set up your iPhone in your office, talk directly to the camera, and then upload the video to YouTube with a well-formed description (don’t skimp on this part) and plenty of keyword-focused tags (i.e., “dentist in my area,” “[your town name] best dentist,” etc.). If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask your kids or younger people in your office.

3. Build your Google reviews

This method also dovetails perfectly with my number-one tip, which is utilizing your most powerful weapon: five-star Google reviews. Google reviews are a powerful way to establish trust in a potential patient’s eyes, as you’re relying on unbiased third parties to do the talking for you. Best of all, Google reviews don’t cost you a cent because you’re using an asset you already have. If you ask them the right way, your patients will trip over themselves to gush about you and why you’re the best choice in town.

Will you join the revolution?

You can’t fight progress; any opponent of technological progress always loses. But if you learn to stay on top of the wave of new dental marketing by truly understanding what modern patients want and how best to reach them, you can employ this new tool set and score a windfall of new business.

Don’t be another cautionary tale lost to history. Let go of the past and start today!

References

1. Barrabi T. Retail apocalypse: These big retailers closing stores, filing for bankruptcy. Fox Business website. https://www.foxbusiness.com/retail/features-retail-apocalypse-bankruptcy-stores-closing. Published March 6, 2019.

2. CVS, Walgreens offering dental services. Pyments.com. https://www.pymnts.com/news/retail/2019/cvs-walgreens-dental-services. Published January 30, 2019.

3. About the conference. DE Principles of Practice Management Conference website. https://www.principlesofpracticemgmt.com/conference.html.

Graig Presti is CEO of four-time Inc. 500/5000-recognized company Local Search For Dentists (LSFD), one of the fastest-growing companies in dentistry. LSFD helps thousands of dentists all over the world gain dominance in their local markets. Presti’s proprietary marketing systems have helped thousands of dentists achieve more freedom, greater new patient numbers, and the ability to reach their income goals.

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