Are you ready for the next wave in dentistry?

March 21, 2012

The history of the public's perception of dentistry may be viewed as consisting of three waves. I like to describe the first wave with the term "Feel Well Dentistry."  During this wave, dentists were perceived as first and foremost who to call to get you out of tooth pain. 

The history of the public's perception of dentistry may be viewed as consisting of three waves. I like to describe the first wave with the term "Feel Well Dentistry."  During this wave, dentists were perceived as first and foremost who to call to get you out of tooth pain. 

The next wave, spearheaded largely by the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD), is "Look Well Dentistry,” where the public began to perceive the dentist as able to improve one’s appearance, as well as alleviate pain.  

The third, latest, wave is "Be Well Dentistry,” that is, a commitment to overall health and wellness, which entails eliminating the false distinction between oral and systemic health that persists in the minds of the public, as well as many dental and medical professionals. When all people come to rightly view the dentist as an oral physician, offering the ability to diagnose, treat and prevent systemic illnesses, collaborative care is fostered, and “Be Well Dentistry” is born.

It is not a question of whether, but when this becomes reality.  In fact, the general public has already begun to move in this direction, as evidenced by television programs like Dr. Oz featuring such topics as  Can good oral health save your life?

Let’s get organized?

In October of 2010 an organization was founded in Madison, Wisconsin by Dr. Chris Kammer, whose  father Jack founded the AACD in that same city and which has, since 1984 grown to be an internationally recognized organization of over 7,000 Members.  It is the American Academy for Oral Systemic Health (AAOSH), and it promises to do even more for “Be Well Dentistry” than the AACD is doing for “Look Well Dentistry.”   

As its Mission on their website reveals AAOSH is:

…a network of dedicated health care leaders working to change professional ?and public behaviors, and address the importance of oral health as it relates ?to whole body health…AAOSH will bridge the gaps among all health care pro-?fessionals through unprecedented cooperation across all disciplines…based ?on sound research principles. We are passionate about elevating the quality ?of health care, and will work to communicate the mouth-body health link, ?so people worldwide can live healthier, longer and happier lives.

The formation of this organization could not have come at a better time.  Research continues to unequivocally demonstrate connections between the health of the mouth and that of the body, as do plain old common sense.

Do Well By Doing Good?

Those of you who are familiar with Climb For A Cause and The Smile Tree know we tend to use the above adage, attributable to Ben Franklin, quite a bit. It’s basically a corollary to Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’, which holds that people tend to do the most good for society as a whole when pursuing their own interests. “Win-Win” conveys a similar sentiment.  We mention it here because offering “Be Well Dentistry” affords you the opportunity to grow your practice while simultaneously helping more patients in more ways, which is a quintessential  example of doing well by doing good (those interested in a more comprehensive treatment of this important topic are invited to visit the Climb For A Cause website, or read Joe Blaes’ article on dental cause marketing).

Having Isn’t Knowing?

Once a practice has committed to learn about, acquire, and offer products and services to help patients and their community lead longer, healthier, and happier lives, it must also determine how to best ‘get the word out’, in other words, conceive and implement a “Be Well Dentistry Marketing Plan.”

The first requirement, as with any marketing tactic, is to effectively translate and package the benefits offered given audiences in ways that first create awareness, generate interest, creates desire, and ultimately, induce action.

Your Three-Pronged Plan

Armed with the ability to truly differentiate your practice, and offer the above-referenced win-win situation, you are ready to conceive and implement your three-pronged marketing plan to build your Be Well dental practice.  The three prongs of you plan are: Physician Referral, Patient Marketing, and Hyper Targeted External Marketing.

Your Physician Referral Strategy

Be Well Dentistry represents one of the best opportunities to collaborate with medical professionals including cardiologists, internists, obstetricians, sleep disorder and diabetes specialists, and, as more manifestations of the oral systemic link become known, this list will grow.  It is all about opening those doors of communication and offering assistance to your colleagues in allied medical fields to improve the health and longevity of the patients they serve by collaborating with you.

Your first step is to acquire your contact (email, mail, and telephone) list, the composition of which depends on which specialists to target which, in turn, depends on what you offer. Another factor in compiling your contact list is geographic proximity. The more convenient it is for a potential referral source’s patients to visit you, the more likely they will. The list may be acquired manually, that is, by referring to printed and online directories, or it may be acquired through a list compiler.

Once you’ve acquired your contact list, the next step is to select your communication channels e.g. email, direct mail, website optimization, social media, etc., and then craft your messages and offers for maximum impact.  In most cases, you’ll want to create one or more landing pages on your website to which prospective and current referral sources may learn about your referral program and patient handling protocol.

Your Internal Marketing Strategy?

You will, of course, want to be sure your internal communications effectively convey to your patients, most of whom will need to be made aware of, these valuable additions to your service offerings.

Communicating with your patients of record, who may not yet know (or care) about the fact you practice “Be Well Dentistry” requires a nuanced approached.  This is because people naturally are resistant to and skeptical of change, even change that is good for them.  So resist the urge to come at your patients like the proverbial bull in the china closet, opting instead to gently communicate over time your transformation to a Be Well Dentistry practice. Email ‘drip marketing’ campaigns, open houses, complimentary screenings involving medical professionals in your referral network (see above), are all good ways to share your commitment to overall health and wellness with your patients

Your ‘Hyper-Targeted’ External Marketing Strategy

?Targeting people known to have, or likely to be at risk for, such systemic conditions as diabetes, heart disease, various types of cancer, sleep disorder, and more is now possible thanks to the availability of compiled list and ‘pay per click’ ads using social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

As with your current patients, it remains important, however, to ‘run the race at the new patient’s pace.’ In other words, not every person you reach will be ready for Be Well Dentistry.  We believe that your communications should also be inviting to those patients, so you will have the opportunity to meet their immediate needs, as well as help them along the path to embracing Be Well Dentistry.

It is, of course, your choice how you wish to brand your practice.  We’ve just found that, by ‘speaking the patient’s language’, and offering choices with which they are comfortable, your practice can actually help move your new (and current) patients from Feel Well and Look Well Dentistry into Be Well Dentistry, which is of course, where everyone deserves to be.

 

Daniel Bobrow, MBA, is president of the American Dental Marketing Company, a dentistry marketing and patient communications consultancy. He is also Executive Director of Dentists’ Climb for a Cause™. Readers interested in learning more about integrated marketing and patient communication products, systems and services are invited to contact Mr. Bobrow at 312-455-9488 or DBobrow@AmericanDentalMarketing.com or visit AmericanDentalMarketing.com.