In today’s environment of consumerism, patients have higher expectations. They are more price conscious and have immediate access to oral health information. They are shoppers who, with a few simple key strokes, can find the average cost of any dental service in their area through websites that compare the costs of specific procedures by zip code. Shoppers can accept the rate found on a website, negotiate for an even lower price, or pay cash and receive an even better discount.
In recent years, the dental industry has taken on more of a “consumer” focus. This shift is due, in part, to a number of influences: (1) increasing competition among private practices requiring differentiation through overall quality of experience rather than solely on clinical outcomes; (2) increasing co-pays required at the time of service causing patients to be selective about where they spend their money; and (3) new consumer-based services and products that can command a premium (e.g., teeth whitening, digital restorative services, or orthodontic procedures for adults using aligner treatments).
Dental consumers can be separated into six segments that coincide with the care that each type seeks. (Figure 2 – Six health care consumer segments). This “retailing” of the dental industry forces an evaluation on how services are offered to meet the needs and expectations of the dental consumer.
Of the six health care consumer segments, the “Casual and Cautious,” account for thirty-four percent of consumers. They have no immediate need and are typically the most cost conscious.
The next largest group, nicknamed “Content and Compliant”, are the dream patients–they are happy with the clinician, happy with their health plan, trusting, and also the most compliant patients.
Immediate opportunities present themselves with the four remaining segments. The “Online and Onboard” segment is comprised of amateur “Web researchers” who are happy with their care but interested in alternatives and new technologies. The “Sick and Savvy” are heavy consumers of health care services who are most open to the recommendations of their clinician. The “Out and About” group accounts for the nine percent of consumers that are independent and prefer alternative treatments as well as personalized service options. The remaining four percent of consumers are “Value Shoppers,” this group actively seeks out options and are most likely to switch services.
Like everything else, the consumption of dental services is changing. Dental professionals must be advocates for the health of their patients. We earn patient loyalty by bringing unique value and quality care to each patient. Consumer empowerment drives consumer demand, which ultimately drives increased office visits. Recently, Planmeca–E4D Technologies launched its new patient portal findadigitaldentist.com with the mission of informing the public about modern dentistry and promoting the importance of regular dental visits. The site helps consumers understand when a digital restoration is needed and directs them to a local dentist who can perform the treatment. findadigitaldentist.com is a referral source for all dental practices that have a Planmeca digital scanner. Dental patients can simply search by zip code to find the nearest dentist in their area that offers digital restorations.
As dentistry continues to evolve, patient education is becoming more and more important in supporting dental practices. In addition to findadigitaldentist.com, Planmeca–E4D Technologies provides additional marketing support and non-traditional tools (Figure 1) so that dental practices can engage potential patients, as well as differentiate the dental practice based on the procedures it provides.
Patients are taking more responsibility for their health. They seek information and options via the internet to connect with brands and relationships that are important to them. Look for ways to offer services that show you are on the cutting edge of technology and can provide better and more effective patient care. Educate your patients on the connection between dental health and systemic condition effects, and provide customized treatment plans. The fact that patients are more aware of their health care options gives you the opportunity to develop loyalty, and better compliance with the treatment plans you recommend.