I was speaking last week to a group of new dentists about private practice and trends in dentistry. One of my co-lecturers was the regional manager of a large dental supply company. He first spoke about trends that he is seeing around the country: technologies, the insurance industry, and the impact of corporate dentistry. Essentially, he tied together the three concepts by pointing out how the proliferation of insurance-reimbursement dependent corporate dental clinics requires us to utilize technology to be more and more efficient. He stressed that the profession is evolving and, with today’s economy and patient’s greater reliance on dental insurance, we have to adapt and produce more dentistry in a shorter amount of time. We have to compete with the special offers of free or discounted exams and x-rays that are constantly advertised by these corporate entities, or risk becoming dinosaurs. He asked, “How would you like one of these corporate entities to open next door to you?”
I then got up and said “I’m going to teach you how to be a dinosaur. I proceeded to discuss some ways to maintain a fee-for-service practice. The key is to build value for our services in the patients’ minds. Develop an experience for patients that they have never before received. One tip I had was not only to perform an extra-oral exam, TMJ exam and cancer screen, but also verbalize those results, loud and proud. Nothing is more powerful and surprising to a patient than to hear you dictate to your assistant, “Negative cancer screen.” This lets the patient know what you’ve done for them and sets your practice apart.
I then picked up on the regional manager’s comments about competing with the corporate entities. In response to his question about one of these corporate entities to move in next door, I answered a resounding “Heck yes.” It is amazing how many patients come to our office because they have heard that we offer a different experience. They are disenchanted by their visits to these corporate chains; often not seeing the same doctor or staff members, and feeling pressured or rushed. This is not to say that these clinics or dentists are in and of themselves, inferior. Rather, by their nature, they have high turnover due to burnout, and need to be super-efficient due to the pressures of production goals with inadequate insurance reimbursement.
I actually go to great lengths to advertise in direct contrast to these clinics. One of my radio advertisements says that we are not offering patients a $17.99 exam and x-rays, but rather the most thorough dental care available with a team that has been together for over a decade. It further assures people that they will see the same dentist (me) at every visit. It is amazing how many patients are thirsting for that approach. They want a dental home where they know there is consistency amongst the staff and a dentist who will truly know and appreciate their dental history.
Say it loud and proud. Let patients know what they can expect from you and be proud to let them know what you have done for them by verbalizing your findings. Let’s not diminish the most important thing we do for patients—examination and diagnosis—by offering free or discounted exams. We are true physicians of the head and neck; let’s make sure patients know it. They will thank us for it.
Christopher J. Perry MS, DMD, FAGD