The Boutique Dental Practice

If you`re reading this article to discover the four clinical points that will make you a better dentist, you`re not going to find them. The title may seem misleading-perhaps you think it suggests that you will learn the keys to clinical excellence. I`m sorry, but that isn`t the subject matter. Rather, we`ll discuss clinical quality as it is perceived by patients.

Roger P. Levin, DDS, MBA

If you`re reading this article to discover the four clinical points that will make you a better dentist, you`re not going to find them. The title may seem misleading-perhaps you think it suggests that you will learn the keys to clinical excellence. I`m sorry, but that isn`t the subject matter. Rather, we`ll discuss clinical quality as it is perceived by patients.

To be honest, providing patients with outstanding clinical quality does not influence their perception of the services you provide. I frequently have discussed my philosophy of the boutique dental practice in these pages. If you`ve been reading Dental Economics regularly, then you know that clinical excellence is really something that patients just don`t understand.

Frankly, the philosophy that providing excellent clinical dentistry builds a practice is not applicable in this day and age. Of course, that doesn`t mean that you shouldn`t still offer the highest clinical quality possible. It simply means that you should also define your practice by the perceptions patients develop after visiting your office.

How Patients Judge Quality

The truth is that patients have never been able to judge the quality of care they are receiving from their dentists. Imagine preparing a tooth to receive a crown. Halfway through the preparation, the patient asks you to stop and requests a mirror. After looking at himself in the mirror, the patient looks back at you and says in horror, "I didn`t want a chamfer! I wanted a shoulder with a bevel!"

I will venture to say that this has never happened in the history of dentistry. The shock of such a thing occurring would be overwhelming. Patients do not need to know a lot about clinical care. They place their trust in you and expect to receive only the best. Even managed-care patients have the same expectation for quality of care, regardless of discounted fees.

Patients judge your clinical quality in four ways:

1. Patients judge by the perceived level of technology (since they cannot truly know the level of technology).

2. Patients judge by WOW Factor customer service.

3. Patients judge by the attractiveness of your office.

4. Patients judge by positive experience.

Our main concern in this column is making patient interest "number one."

High Tech Means Quality

The technological items that patients are exposed to in the dental office can be extremely impressive to them. While you may understand the ins and outs of all of the highly sophisticated equipment in you office, patients only believe that the technology guarantees quality care after you have given them some information about the equipment.

Unfortunately, most practices purchase advance technology, but rarely take the time to properly educate patients on the equipment. While the dentist may know that the technology helps provide better care, patients have no idea what the equipment does or if it enhances their oral health.

For example, suppose you decide to incorporate digital radiography into the practice. You know it reduces radiation and has the ability to be stored and imaged within your practice management-computer system. You also know that it can send radiographs via electronic claims. But do your patients know any of this? Probably not.

Most likely, your patients never will truly understand the clinical value to using advanced equipment, like digital radiography. However, you can use digital radiography, and any other technology in your practice for that matter, as a patient-marketing tool.

Educating your patients on the high-tech equipment in your office instills in them confidence in your ability to provide them with top-notch care. Properly marketing your technology to patients greatly increases your return on investment because more patients will accept treatment and refer friends and family.

In the competitive world of dentistry, the best practice style will be the boutique-and that boutique will be high-tech and impressive. But spend your money wisely. Gimmicks do not enhance the quality of your practice. Advanced technology does. The more patients understand high-tech equipment, or think they understand high-tech equipment, the better their perception of your office. When purchasing technical equipment, keep your patients in mind.

The inherent value of any dental product can be determined by what it adds to your clinical quality and by how well patients understand or can be educated on that equipment. Do not risk losing a high return on your investment; market your technology as quality to patients.

Dr. Roger Levin is founder and president of The Levin Group, a national, dental-management and marketing-consulting firm. He can be reached at 410-486-1089.

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