This article originally appeared in the April/2021 issue of the Academy of General Dentistry’s AGD Impact magazine.
All dental practices are pretty much the same, right? They all offer the same basic services and have similar equipment, and for the most part their patients want the same things. Of course not! Yes, there are some patients who typically only need routine services and for them, perhaps one dental practice is as good as the next. But there are so many more patients out there looking for something more special from their dentist. With the abundance of advances in dentistry today, dental practices have many opportunities to differentiate themselves, whether from a customer service/patient care standpoint, through the variety of treatments and services offered, or with the use of innovative technology.
One obvious way that a dental practice can cultivate a reputation for being different is through its customer service and patient care practices in and outside of the office. When it comes to taking care of patients outside the office, nowadays, it’s not enough just to send out reminder postcards or rely on confirmation phone calls. In order to really stand out, a practice should consider adding services such as online inquiries and appointment verification, text alerts for reminders and follow-up, and specialized digital communications aimed at new and existing patient outreach. As people grow more and more accustomed to using digital technology to communicate with businesses, for a dental practice, adding that possibility for its patients can significantly increase the success of patient outreach and follow through.
On the other side of the customer service coin, when it comes to taking care of patients in the office, some practices go above and beyond by offering “comfort menus”, that is a list of value added services like blankets, noise-cancelling headphones, chairside televisions, and sedation options. Many of these extras are easy to provide and cost very little to implement. And, while the blankets and headphones should come at no extra cost to the patient, obviously sedation options should not. However, by offering sedation in this way, as an option among a menu of other creature comforts, the practice can increase awareness of it for patients who may not have considered it before, leading to an increase in patients selecting sedation as part of their treatment plan. In any case, all of these extras add up to a more gratifying patient experience, which in turn creates loyalty and often makes the patient more open to receiving recommendations for additional treatments.
Beyond enhancing patient comfort, many practices choose to offer a wider variety of treatment options and services. For instance, with the right equipment and professional training, a dentist can offer same-day crowns, clear aligners made in-house with a 3D printer, or mini dental implants. These types of services, while requiring an initial outlay to purchase equipment or receive the proper training, if marketed properly, can generate substantial revenue over the life of the practice. Likewise, providing options that other practices may not be able to can often be the deciding factor when it comes to a new patient who is comparing local dentists. Even if a patient is not in the market for such services at the time, knowing that they are available can differentiate the practice in the patient’s mind as possibly more modern or boutique. This feeling of uniqueness can also have a positive impact on patient perception in terms of quality and lead to a higher caliber of patient overall.
Advanced services, perhaps those not traditionally associated with dental care— for example, early orthodontic treatment, stem cell therapy to treat oral cancer, sleep apnea or TMD treatment options, cold laser therapy for pain relief, or even Botox®— can also drive more revenue into the office and make a practice stand out among its peers. Not only will patients be pleasantly surprised that these services are available at their dentist’s office, they will also be relieved that they do not need to seek out another provider to get the treatment they want. Of course, anyone offering such services must be extensively trained and qualified to do so. In addition, the dental office should have a network of trusted specialists for cases that may be too complex to handle in-house. However, even when a case needs to be referred to another professional, the patient will appreciate the additional attention and the willingness to provide a wider range of services, thus increasing the likelihood that they will come back for other procedures and also refer friends and family.
Technology is another big defining factor when it comes to dental practices. While keeping up with the latest technology does frequently come with substantial expense, technology upgrades are really an investment in the business, and some options do not require a major outlay. Patients like to know that their dental office takes pride in staying up to date with trends and technological advances. It gives them comfort that their dental professional is staying current and educated on the latest developments. Plus, technology can help the practice project a “youthful” image and attract a broader variety of quality patients.
In a world where everything is digital and instantly available, dentists have a great opportunity to show how current they are with technology such as digital X-rays, intraoral cameras, 3D imaging, and treatment simulation software. Patients who are accustomed to using advanced technology in their daily lives and receiving rapid-type services from other businesses they patronize are often looking for the same thing from their healthcare professionals, including their dentist. Additionally, instant or nearly instant information can help expedite the decision-making process for patients who might otherwise have doubts based on not being able to physically see the issue or potential outcome in advance.
Providing additional services, whether in terms of patient comfort, convenience, or technology not only gives a dental practice a leg up on the competition, it can also help the practice tap into patient markets it may not have been able to reach before. For instance, offering cutting-edge procedures such as cold laser treatment or same-day crowns can be a boon for a practice looking to target a younger or more tech-savvy demographic. Likewise, sleep apnea and TMD treatment can attract patients who would normally go straight to a specialist without considering their dentist as an option to treat their symptoms. At the end of the day, a practice willing to think a bit outside the traditional dental care box and enhance its treatment offering with some value added services can increase its patient base considerably and, therefore, its revenue.