One of the things my team members and I think about a great deal is what I call “internal marketing.” When we use this term, we think of it as continually keeping our patients advised of the things we do to make their dental experience safer, more effective, and more comfortable. I’ve found it’s one of the most important ways we help build and maintain our practice. I’d like to share some of the things we do to improve our internal marketing, and I’d especially like to tell you how we make the new technology we bring into our practice the focus of our internal marketing effort.
One way to practice internal marketing is the office tour. In our office, we tend to handle the idea of a tour informally. Our “tour” is usually handled casually as we walk with the patient through the office back to the operatory. During this walk, we introduce our patients to equipment such as lasers, intraoral cameras, digital radiography, CAD/CAM, and computerized practice management. We’ve found that making patients aware of the fact that we’ve installed these technologies sends the message that our practice is dedicated to providing the best and most up-to-date treatment, supported by the best new technology.
Digital radiography is one of the most important technologies in our practice, and it’s the one to which patients react most positively. One of our rules is never to say the word “X-ray” by itself. We always say “digital X-ray.” The reason we do this is because the term “X-ray” has connotations of radiation exposure. Consequently, when we introduce the patients to this technology, we explain that their radiation exposure is substantially reduced, up to 80 percent over certain types of film. My practice is definitely a patient-centered practice, and our patients get the message that the reason we installed digital radiography is to better provide for their needs.
One of the questions we always ask new patients is, “When did you have your last set of X-rays taken?” If it was recently taken, we of course want to get them to our office - either electronically or, if they’re film X-rays, by mail. If the patient needs X-rays, we explain our digital radiography system in more detail. After we tell the patient that it’s the safest technology available for dental X-rays, we talk about the comfort factor. The system we use has a rounded-edge sensor that is much more comfortable in the patient’s mouth than film and other digital radiography sensors, which have very sharp edges. Patients appreciate the fact that we made our decision about which digital radiography system to select with their comfort and safety in mind.
This brings up another point that I think is important, and it concerns the dental team. I’ve never known my team members not to mention this new technology. They’re actually proud of our digital radiography system, and you can sense it in their presentation.
Once the patient is in the chair, the most common thing we hear when he or she sees the first large, clear, well-defined digital X-ray up on the computer screen is, “Wow!” The patient is actually able to see an X-ray image without having to simply take the dentist’s word that there’s a cavity present.
And that brings up another important point about the doctor-patient relationship. In the old days of film X-rays, the doctor literally turned his or her back on the patient while hunching over to examine a tiny piece of film on a light box. The patient was totally excluded from the diagnostic process.
With digital radiography, my patients and I view the X-ray together on the computer screen. I’m not ignoring or excluding my patients - in fact, it’s exactly the opposite. I am including my patients in the diagnosis. I can use the many features of my digital radiography system to enhance the image and enable my patients to understand perfectly whatever problems I find. Patient treatment acceptance is much greater and involves much more understanding on their part, more than I ever could achieve with film.
One of the things my team members and I understand is that every patient appointment is an opportunity to market our practice, whether it’s a new patient or one who has been in our office many times. Making sure our patients know how important their comfort and safety is to us is one of the most effective internal marketing tools we have. And letting patients know about the new technologies I install is one of the best ways I’ve found to tell them that their well-being is of primary importance to me.
Dr. Cynthia Brattesani maintains a private practice in San Francisco. She won the prestigious ADA Golden Apple New Dentist Leadership Award in 1996. She is an enthusiastic member of organized dentistry, having held positions at the local, state, and national levels. You may reach her at [email protected].