The Jameson Files

May 1, 2000
This month, Dr. John Jameson speaks with Fred Joyal, the chairman of Futuredontics, Inc. Futuredontics is the operator of smileworks.com. They discuss the use of the Internet within the dental practice.

This month: The Internet with Fred Joyal

Dr. John Jameson

This month, Dr. John Jameson speaks with Fred Joyal, the chairman of Futuredontics, Inc. Futuredontics is the operator of smileworks.com. They discuss the use of the Internet within the dental practice.

Dr. Jameson: In the past, referrals for a dentist have come by word-of-mouth. How is a referral through the Internet different than the personal referrals that dentists have received for so many years?

Joyal: The person that comes through the Internet has been doing an active information search that is different than just looking in the Yellow Pages. On the Internet, you can really dig down and find a lot of information and ask a lot of questions, which is a fairly active process. Unlike other forms of advertising where people are being convinced of something, people are hitting the Internet who are already interested in a topic. They will come to the office much more informed about the procedures offered by the practice, but they`re still somewhat unfamiliar with the office itself. Most of the time, that contact is a very cold contact. Staff members need to realize that, even though this person knows about the office from the Internet, they still need to be introduced on a personal level.

Dr. Jameson: So you`re saying that this person can be seen as someone who has come to the practice by random chance, right?

Joyal: Yes. But people who use the Internet now tend to be better educated and more affluent. The Internet makes it very easy to find information, and people are drawn to it.

Dr. Jameson: What are some different ways that consumers can find a dentist on the Internet?

Joyal: If consumers see an ad for smileworks.com, they know they can go straight to that site and find a dentist. There are a number of sites where they can do just that, and each site has a varying degree of information on the dentist. Some of the sites have just a name, address, and phone number. Some have more background. At smileworks.com, we see a number of people coming to us through sites like AOL or women.com, where the consumer looks at a health page and thinks, `I should find a dentist,` or `I need to find out about whitening.` Maybe they`ve already been asking themselves some questions about dentistry. They click through to a site from a general portal that has become their home page. Women, in particular, are very fond of using the Internet and having a home site like ivillage.com or women.com.

Dr. Jameson: They`re already at a comfortable level with the information they`re going to get from that site, correct?

Joyal: Yes. If it comes through that filter, they believe it`s a more reliable resource because they`ve been relying on that site for such things as shopping information, auction information, and health information. Nearly 70 percent of people use the Internet for health information.

Dr. Jameson: It sounds as if the Internet will be the wave of the future for referrals for the dental practice. So far, everything we`ve heard sounds very positive. What do you see as the biggest obstacles for dentists who are trying to use the Internet to attract new patients to their practices?

Joyal: If a dentist sets up his or her own Web site, how does he or she tell people that it`s there? A dentist can`t just establish a site and hope that it will come up when someone does an online search. It won`t. Unless people are being directed to that site, the site will not have much success. A dentist can advertise the site in the Yellow Pages or though a direct mail piece, but the best way is to advertise it through a DentistryOnline, DDS4U, or a smileworks.com that features a dentist search function. People who are actively looking can find that dentist and say, `OK. This is the type of dentist I am looking for and this is what I want to know about him or her.` Someone recently said that 1 million new pages are being added to the Internet every day. That`s way too much information that isn`t screened. People want the various filters, and people eventually will begin going to a dental portal first.

Dr. Jameson: So one of the biggest challenges for dentists is knowing what information the consumer wants?

Joyal: Yes. Having connected millions of people through our phone-based service, we know what type of information consumers are looking for when they go to a dentist`s site. The dentist may have a very attractive home page that talks about his or her hobbies and the aquarium in the office, but what the patient really wants to know about are special hours, procedures, handicap accessibility, education levels of the dentist and the associates, etc. Those are the decision factors for choosing a new dentist.

Dr. Jameson: When you look at everything from patient education to appointment-scheduling, what is the marketing potential for the individual dentist on the Internet? How big can this get?

Joyal: This becomes a primary way of communicating very inexpensively with your existing patient base and, if you use a dental portal, it brings in the consumer who has never heard of you. You can then market to every existing patient in your practice and push certain information. Let`s say you want to run a different special every month and you know the e-mail addresses of 90 percent of your patients. With just a few keystrokes, you can tell all of these people that you are having a special on whitening. Doing that as a regular mailing is expensive. Now it`s literally pennies to do something like that and it comes through a medium that many of your patients are using every day. More and more consumers will begin to recognize that medium as the most valuable way to get and screen information. It`s certainly not as intrusive as someone calling around and not invisible like direct mail.

Dr. Jameson: Using e-mail can be a very effective communication tool, can`t it?

Joyal: Yes. You can tailor a message to every individual patient based on age or previous treatments. If a patient has not responded to a case presentation, you can let him or her know to go online and look at financing information. Patients can see how they can afford the treatment. If a patient doesn`t understand a procedure, you can let him or her know about a site where he or she can go and look at a video or gain more information. That`s a tremendous sales tool!

Dr. Jameson: At this point in time, this really is an infant oppor°tunity in the dental industry. What do you see in the future?

Joyal: I think you will see the ability to have a national network where people - instead of disappearing into a `recall black hole` when they move - will have their files move with them digitally, as well as scheduling and other preferences. Once a patient finds a new dentist in his or her new city, the dentist will already have a file on that patient. That`s just the tip of the iceberg, because that technology is available today. In any given year, 15 to 20 percent of the population in the United States is moving. When people change addresses, they may procrastinate on finding a dentist. This would allow the recall process to be `tightened up,` which would have a pretty substantial effect on dentistry`s gross production. I think that people would go to the dentist when they moved if they felt like they had a comfortable place to go.

Dr. Jameson: So that keeps people going to the dentist, regardless of where they live?

Joyal: Yes, and that same access to files can be used if the person is going to a specialist. The specialist and the general practitioner can sit down and have an online conference and discuss the procedure. They can share in the information and the diagnosis rather than waiting for someone to bring the file over. Rather than a file being passed hand to hand, it`s eye to eye over the computer, with everyone looking at the same thing. That`s a great service to the specialist and the consumer.

Dr. Jameson: As we look towards the future, what does all this mean to our profession?

Joyal: The biggest problem in dentistry is that there are 110,000 practices around the country, and they`re not able to deliver good, strong dental messages to consumers because the industry is so fragmented. This allows all of these practices to have access to a number of different ways to communicate with people, identify the consumer`s dental IQ, make dentistry a priority to them, and make it easier for them to get. This will allow dentists to make a huge impact, while running their own business and being their own boss.

DE

For more information about this article, contact the author at (580) 369-5555. A biography of the author appears on page 10.

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