Exploring the Use of QR Codes in Dental Practice Marketing

There has been a significant increase in the use of advertising campaigns and other communications that use QR Codes. Several trends have fueled this. There are more smartphones in people’s hands. The use of QR Codes is free of any license, decreasing the cost of creating QR Code-based campaigns, and most importantly, QR Codes are a part of a larger trend toward merging real-life and digital experiences. The real and the digital are coming together, and QR Codes is one way to facilitate this.

A recent Mobio Identity Systems study1 quantified just how rapidly QR Code use has increased in the past year alone. It’s findings show an explosion of QR Code use. It found that:

  • On a year-over-year basis, QR Code scanning has increased by 4,549 percent in the first quarter of 2011.
  • People who added QR Code scanning capabilities to their mobile devices during Quarter one 2011 has increased almost ten-fold versus new users added in Quarter one 2010.

With this rapid growth comes an opportunity for dental practices to use these codes to give patients immediate access to relevant digital content. Dental practices can use this technology to build better relationships with existing patients, gain new patients, and ultimately grow their practices. In addition, encouraging digital interactions with your patients will help build and grow a network of patients that can be leveraged in the future.

The Basics

QR stands for Quick Response. A QR Code is a two-dimensional bar code. The technology was developed in 1994 by Denso Wave Corporation. It is similar to the conventional bar codes found on products in a typical grocery store, except that a QR Code is specially made for smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices. QR Codes have built in error checking so if the code gets dirty or slightly damaged the code can still be read by a scanner. A QR Code can contain several types of data including: URLs, text-messages, phone numbers, and other text-based information.

QR Codes can also contain much more information than a conventional bar code, giving it a great deal of flexibility.

QR Code Data Capacity2

Numeric only Max. 7,089 characters
Alphanumeric Max. 4,296 characters
Binary (8 bits) Max. 2,953 bytes

When a patient sees a QR Code, they can use the camera on their smartphone to scan it. The smartphone users will need to have an application on their phones to allow them to do this, but all the major smartphones either have these apps pre-installed or offer them for download. Once scanned, the user can be taken to a Web site to schedule an appointment; submit a review of your practice to a social media site; or be presented with any content you are interested in providing.

Dental flyer with QR Code

How to Make a QR Code

It’s easy to generate a QR Code. Several free Web sites will create a QR Code for you. In addition, creating a QR Code is free. This makes it very inexpensive for a dental practice to utilize this technology as there are no ongoing fees associated with their use.

Here are a couple popular Web sites for making your own QR Codes.


These Web sites allow you to enter the information you would like to have embedded in your code and then, with the click of a button, generate a QR Code for you. Once made, you can print your own special code on any surface. The surface could be your waiting room wall, a brochure, a print advertisement, or a hangtag on the toothbrush you give to your patients when they check out.

QR Code

In addition to the more traditional marketing tactics, there is no shortage of creative uses for QR Codes. You can make QR Code T-shirts or use QR Codes in TV spots. In fact, shows like Late Night with Jimmy Fallon are using QR Codes to further engage their audiences. There is even a tattoo parlor in Phoenix that offers QR Code tattoos.3

Core Users

The Mobio Identity Systems study also found that women are the top QR Code scanners, with 68% of scans done by females.

Of all people using QR Codes, the top age segments are:

  • 26% of QR Code scanning is done by users aged 35-44.
  • 23% of QR Code scanning is done by users aged 45-54.
  • 22% of QR Code scanning is done by users aged 25-34.

These demographics support marketing tactics targeting these key dental care decision makers with whitening and other cosmetic procedures.

Marketing Ideas

There are several ways a dental practice could integrate QR Codes into its marketing efforts. Here are just a few examples.

Phone showing patient appointment

Growing Social Media

  • As patients leave the office, ask them to leave a testimonial on your Yelp or Facebook page. To further encourage this, you could place a sign on your counter with a QR Code that links directly to these pages.
  • Another way to encourage social media participation is to encourage users to check in at your office location. You could do this by creating a sign containing a QR Code that links users to Facebook Places or Foursquare.

Direct Mail and Print Advertising

  • Including QR Codes in direct mail and print advertising is a great way to encourage users to visit your Web site. For example, you could include a QR Code in a mailer that links directly to your online scheduling system. This would provide patients an easy way to quickly book an appointment right at the moment they are thinking about it. In addition, QR Codes are still unique enough that they visually stand out in an ad, grabbing your audience’s attention.

Patient Waiting Area

  • Add QR Codes to brochures or posters in your waiting areas. These QR Codes could link patients to educational information or videos posted on your web site. Once there, the user could be presented with the benefits of key services you are promoting, and because they can be created relatively inexpensively, the QR Codes could change regularly as you change the services you promote.

Postoperative Information

  • Provide patients with postoperative information cards that contain a QR Code. This code could link to postoperative instructions or other educational information.

For each of these tactics, it is important to make sure that the Web site you send your patients to is mobile-friendly. After making the effort to send patients to a digital experience, you’ll want to do whatever you can to make sure it is a positive one.

QR Codes

These are just a few of the possible uses for QR Codes in dental practices. Experimenting with a couple of these is a great way to further engage your patients in the digital world.

The Future

QR Codes themselves may not be around forever. Other technologies such as NFC (Near Field Communication) are on the horizon that will combine quick access to digital content with e-commerce. In March, Google Places removed QR Codes from users’ Places accounts, signaling an end to their support of these codes. But this doesn’t mean the time isn’t right for QR Codes. It will be several years before acceptance and penetration of NFC catches up to QR Codes, making now a great time to pursue QR Code-based tactics.

Regardless of the technology, the real world and the digital will continue to merge, becoming more interconnected and more dependent upon one another.

Patrick Kelly is a Partner at Method Engine, a full-service digital agency based in Chicago Patrick is also available for speaking engagements. He can be reached at www.methodengine.com


Originally published in Sidekick Magazine.