There is little valid information about factors that influence a patient’s choice of an orthodontic practice. The aim of this study was to determine what orthodontists consider the most important factors for prospective adult patients or parents of prospective adolescent patients when choosing an orthodontic practice.
We randomly selected 450 orthodontists from the American Association of Orthodontists’ membership list, stratified to represent various regions. They were sent 2 questionnaires: 1 for prospective adult patients (44 questions) and 1 for parents of prospective adolescent patients (51 questions). The orthodontists were asked to answer as they thought their potential patients would. Responses were given on a visual analog scale.
One hundred twenty-three orthodontists returned the questionnaires. The 3 highest scores were (for adult patients): “a doctor who makes you feel comfortable,” a doctor with a “caring attitude,” and “the doctor’s overall reputation.” For the parents of adolescents, orthodontists thought that “a doctor with a caring attitude,” “who makes you feel comfortable,” and “a staff with a caring attitude” were most important.
Orthodontists thought that the personal characteristics of the doctor and the staff were the most important factors affecting a potential patient’s decision in choosing a practice.
Upon graduation as a young and inexperienced orthodontist 44 years ago, I was intent on locating an active community in need of my professional skills. I thought I found just the spot in western Washington. After starting a practice, I joined Rotary International and become involved the community. Somehow, I thought that patients would seek out the best educated, most scientific, time-tested, wire-bender in town to treat their children. You can imagine how I felt a year later while attending our weekly Rotary Club meeting. I found a seat next to the owner of a local radio station who said, “You should advertise on the radio. It could be another 10 years before anyone even knows you’re in town!” That was not what I wanted to hear and brought to mind a number of questions. How do prospective patients select an orthodontist? Do they prefer smarts, good looks, or the all-trusting fatherly figure? Do we even know what they think?
Information about the relative importance of doctor, staff, and practice characteristics in choosing an orthodontic practice has previously been shown to be valid and reliable. The purpose of this study was to determine orthodontists’ perceptions and opinions on the relative importance of these characteristics to the parents of prospective adolescent patients and to prospective adult patients who are visiting their practices for the first time. With these goals in mind, a group from Ohio State University put together a simple yet insightful report, one that should be of interest to most practicing orthodontists, especially in tough economic times. A total of 123 practicing orthodontists completed 2 questionnaires, 1 for prospective adult patients and the other for parents of prospective adolescent patients. The conclusions are short, sensible, and not especially surprising. Orthodontists thought that the personal characteristics of the doctor and the staff were the most important factors affecting a potential patient’s decision when choosing a practice.