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What’s the difference anyway?

Sept. 1, 2011
Effective practice differentiation leads to significant and sustainable practice growth

by Daniel A. Bobrow, MBA

For more on this topic, go to and search using the following key words: marketing, practice growth, social media, Daniel A. Bobrow, MBA.

Product differentiation is the process of distinguishing a product or offering from others to make it more attractive to a particular target market. (Wikipedia)

Some of the ways in which dental practices have attempted, with varying degrees of success, to differentiate themselves include offering spa and boutique services, sedation, implant, dental sleep medicine, and cause-related dentistry (see May 2011 Dental Economics®).

But different for the sake of being different makes no difference at all. Successful differentiation means creating and maintaining a competitive advantage that is significant, sustainable, and valuable to the consumer.

One way to achieve significance, sustainability, and value is to commit to practicing at the next level of care before it becomes the standard level of care. That next level entails a commitment to oral-systemic health.

Learning your three C’s

The three C’s refer to the major components comprising a successful oral-systemic practice and stand for:

Clinical — acquiring and employing the skills to contribute to the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of serious systemic illness

Collaborative — the means to generate and cultivate cross-referrals from health-care providers outside dentistry

Communication — advising, educating, and encouraging current and prospective patients to say yes to your oral-systemic offering

A good resource for continuing to acquire and hone your clinical oral-systemic skills is the American Academy for Oral Systemic Health (

As you and your team receive the requisite training to competently perform tests and deliver treatment, you will enjoy an additional benefit in that most tests are structured as “pay as you go” — that is, costs are only incurred when a patient is served, while the investment in equipment to deliver procedures such as sleep studies and the like are relatively minor.

Effective collaboration means not merely better care for the patient, who almost invariably benefits from a multidisciplinary approach to prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.

It also is a key to the growth of your oral-systemic practice by generating referrals from health professionals within and outside dentistry.

The 2011 RDH Under One Roof Conference in Chicago had a record attendance.

My friend and fellow AAOSH member, Dr. Lee Ostler, helped me realize that physicians are ethically obligated to speak with a dentist about a patient they share.

“It’s easier to enter a practice through the back door than the front,” says Ostler, “and once you understand how to speak the MD’s language, the rest is easy.”

Communication is informing, educating, and persuading patients to “get” your promise for helping them achieve overall health, wellness, and longevity through treatment and self-care of the oral cavity.

While the public is rapidly becoming aware of this, you will want to remember the importance of “running the race at the patient’s pace.” Do not make the mistake of the recent convert who, in his zealousness, erroneously believes everyone is as excited as he is about his newfound “religion.”

The successful oral-systemic practitioner effectively translates and packages benefits in ways that create awareness, generate interest and desire, and induce trial — that is, encourage the patient to say yes to care.

In-office displays, content-rich on-hold and outgoing messages, hyper-targeted ad campaigns through social media, verbal communication skills team coaching, focused search engine marketing, and public relations campaigns together comprise an effective oral-systemic practice marketing plan.

Case in point

Dr. Ellie Phillips, author of “Kiss Your Dentist Goodbye” and fellow founding AAOSH executive committee member, is committed to a practice where the primary focus is on the complete eradication of peridontal disease and tooth decay.

“It is time to show patients they have a contagious, transferrable disease,” says Dr. Phillips. “... xylitol and effective home care (can help) eliminate disease and strengthen their teeth, [not to mention] your patient relations and referral base! Appreciative patients tell others. And imagine how [your] stress level is relieved when your patients actually look forward to seeing you!”

Be different in how you promote yourself

The recently concluded RDH Under One Roof Conference in Chicago poignantly illustrates the importance of embracing new technology to disseminate your message.

According to Craig Dickson, RDH® magazine’s publisher and event organizer, prior to 2011, approximate average attendance at RDH UOR stood at 1,200. This year’s attendance was more than 1,800.

The primary reason cited for this 40%-plus increase was promotion of the event via social media, in particular YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. Also of note was that the average attendee age fell by several years, which bodes well for the future of any organization.

It’s not only what you do, but when

As alluded to above, the likelihood of sustainable differentiation is, in part, maximized by being first in the marketplace to introduce new concepts. By establishing with area health-care providers outside dentistry that you are the “go-to guy (or gal),” and consistently promoting your position among your target audience, you relegate your competitors to me-too and catch-up status at best.

Don’t just do it; do it right

Anything worth doing involves an element of risk, and while it may be more difficult to measure lost opportunity, there is often greater risk in not doing anything. The legal implications of not practicing standard of care aside, being first to position yourself as the practice committed to your patients’ overall — not just oral — care is one of the most valuable and sustainable assets your practice can acquire.

Daniel A. (Danny) Bobrow, MBA, is president of AIM Dental Marketing (formerly American Dental Marketing). He is also executive director of Climb for a Cause™ and The Smile Tree™. He may be reached at (800) 723-6523 or [email protected].

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