What's your marketing plan for 2015? Is it the same as 2014? 2013? 2007? Attracting new patients today requires differentiation from the dental offices down the street. More and more practices are implementing a total health approach to attract health- and wellness-minded patients. However, the definition of a "total health dental practice" varies significantly. For most offices, total health equates to educating patients about the links between periodontal disease and systemic conditions (e.g., diabetes and heart disease). Using this knowledge to improve the health of patients and educate them about the value of dental visits is important, but it doesn't tell the whole story about the connection between oral health and overall health. If you want to implement more health practices that can attract and retain patients, here are three things you can do.
1. Start talking about what goes in the mouth.
We are what we eat. And what most of us eat is way, way too much sugar. Americans consume an average of 66 pounds of added sugar each year. Not only has sugar consumption increased our caries rate (by age 11, 51% of children have had a cavity in their baby teeth), but it has contributed to the national obesity epidemic. Diet and nutritional information can be overwhelming and confusing for patients. No-carb, Mediterranean, Paleo ... diets come in and out of popularity so quickly they leave consumers cross-eyed. Nutritional recommendations should be easy-to-understand and require only simple diet changes. Here are a few to consider for your patients:
• Limit sugar consumption to the World Health Organization's recommendation of 10-15 grams per day.3
• Read food labels and try to select options with no more than four ingredients.
• Eat more whole fruits and vegetables and limit processed foods whenever possible.
Most people, including your patients, would like to lose weight, have more energy, and keep their teeth until age 80. Focusing on a healthy diet can help patients achieve all three.
2. Focus on what patients are willing to change.
When you review a patient's medical history, current health habits, and oral health, you probably see several immediate actions you'd like to recommend. Floss regularly, lose weight, exercise more ... but don't waste your breath until you understand your patient's motivations. What are his or her health goals? Start with small incremental changes. Track these goals in the patient's file so you can note his or her progress at the next visit. Physicians rarely address the most commonly needed health changes - weight loss and smoking cessation. If you understand the motivations of your patients, these don't have to be uncomfortable conversations. If patients aren't ready to quit smoking, let them know you're there for them when they are. If they aren't ready to make a commitment to improving nutrition, ask them what they will do for better health. Maybe they want to start exercising. Have resources readily available.
3. Start where you can make the greatest impact - kids!
Change is tough for adults. We're set in our ways, and altering our ingrained bad habits is difficult. Children have clean slates and pliable brains. Since kids have more neurons actively creating new connections, they learn more quickly than adults. Revamp your protocols for child visits to capitalize on children's interest in science and how things work. Incorporate hands-on learning with science experiments or a self-prophy. Teach children about the impact of soda consumption and the difference between whole and processed foods. Changing a child's dental experience from a dreaded visit to a fun, hands-on learning opportunity will impact the entire family and ultimately your community.
In addition to improving health, these three practices provide a significantly different experience than most patients expect when they walk into a dental office. This health-focused approach will increase new patient referrals and boost patient retention. To learn more about implementing health and wellness practices, including how to set up your own Hands-On Learning Lab, visit www.HenryScheinBusinessSolutions.com/Wellness.
Jen McGuire With more than a decade of marketing experience in the health-care industry, Jen McGuire now leads the marketing of Henry Schein Dental's Business Solutions. Jen developed and launched dentistry's first wellness program, Total Health Beyond the Mouth. Contact her at (800) 372-4346 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. For references, please visit dentaleconomics.com and search for the title of this article.