Management and Marketing for the General Practice Dental Office

This article reviews trends in the dental marketplace. Marketing is an essential element of dentistry. Communicating treatment options with patients is one aspect of marketing. Treatment planning helps patients understand the relationships between oral health, occlusion, temporomandibular joint function, and systemic health. Through marketing, dental practice owners inform patients of ever-changing treatment modalities. Understanding treatment options allows patients to make better, informed choices. More options leads to a higher level of care and more comprehensive dental treatment. Managing a practice requires tracking its financial health. Economic statistics measure the effect of management decisions that mark the direction of a dental practice.

The public has a general awareness that the aim of dental practitioners is to help patients maintain dental and oral health throughout life. In a Harris Poll, in May 2006, of United States adults regarding whom they trust most, dentists ranked near the top of the list among providers in all health care and non–health care related fields . The degree of trust that patients have for dentists reflects the success of the patient-centered dental practice model; patients are included in the decision-making process regarding their own oral health. Marketing is the first step in patient education. As evidenced by the increasing number of new treatment modalities, including new technologies for minimally invasive and cosmetic dentistry, dentistry is a dynamic field in health care. Marketing the new techniques available in dentistry gives dental patients a greater range of choice and control over the care they receive. Furthermore, rather than focusing solely on one area of dental disease that may be the presenting the chief complaint, patients must come to see that optimal dental health is a year-round endeavor influencing systemic health. The Surgeon General’s Report on oral health in the United States brought to the forefront data linking oral health and overall systemic health and correlating periodontal disease with low and pre-term birth weight . The message of the Surgeon General from 2000 is just as true today. Reinforcing the message of the oral health and systemic link and the need for preventative and restorative care is part of the goal of proper marketing.

A good marketing message for a practice is targeted to a specific group of patients. Marketing should demonstrate the capacity of a practice to satisfy patients’ specific needs. Dental practices that offer specific services in the areas of pediatric care, periodontal procedures, oral surgery, or orthodontics should highlight these areas as strengths of a practice through marketing. Many practices today emphasize offering cosmetic procedures, such as veneers and bleaching, because these often are key areas of interest among new patients as they have a dramatic effect on appearance and the psychologic outlook of patients. Thus, each dental practice has an identity determined by the scope and strengths of a practitioner. Dentists continue to expand the scope of practice through continuing education throughout their careers, and marketing should reflect the new offerings of a dental practice. The best marketing of a dental practice highlights the unique characteristics of the practice. The level of experience of dentists in a practice, including any additional training attained, should be advertised. The hours of a practice, including any weekend hours, should be listed as patients are drawn to the convenience of additional hours of operation. Marketing a practice’s identity—the skill of the practitioner and services offered—allows patients to understand how a practice fits their specific needs.

Managing a dental practice requires an understanding of marketing the services provided, which leads to economic sustainability for the dental practice. To have a more quantitative approach to the running of a dental practice, key performance indicators (KPIs) may be used by a dental practice to track the success of a marketing message. KPIs have long been used by businesses in non–health care sectors to gauge the financial status of a business . General dental practice owners must understand whether or not the number of patients is increasing or decreasing and whether or not patients treated are having greater or fewer numbers of services provided. The financial success of a dental practice also depends on the remuneration provided by patients through dental insurance or fee for services delivered. Knowledge of KPIs, the vital signs of a dental practice, gives a practice owner a sense of the current financial health of the practice. In addition to the current state of a practice, the effect of all decisions made from hiring new employees to purchasing new equipment and treatment space may be gauged preliminarily through KPIs .

The mission statement and management plan

Strategic planning is an important part of guiding the direction of a dental practice. The formal plan for a practice is based on a global mission statement. The long-term practice goals should be written to include a practice’s philosophy. The long-term goals also should include a vision of how a practice will be run when it is passed on to a future dentist or sold. The equity built into a practice is part of a successful long-term goal. In formulating a mission statement, a dentist should list general goals of the practice initially, followed by specific objectives in the immediate term. Statement of objectives should be in a clear and concise fashion, firmly establishing the goal to be accomplished. Foremost, objectives must be realistic and achievable. The objective must be achievable within a prescribed time frame. Next, individual planned actions should be listed, such as increased marketing of certain areas of the practice. Strategic planning is an ongoing part of building a successful practice. Each quarter, the plan should be revised based on the degree of success of practice decisions made. A mission statement and the work ethic it embodies translate into a comfortable, positive clinic environment for patients. Such an environment leads to the most cost-effective marketing: word-of-mouth referrals. Word-of-mouth referrals are an invaluable part of any dental practice marketing plan.

A practice vision process (outlined previously) initially requires establishing a general vision, mission, and values of a practice. Such a vision might be to provide comprehensive care with emphasis on patient satisfaction with the esthetics of the smile while ensuring that the oral health of patients is maintained. The next step in the mission statement is to define key strategic goals. The methods for achieving the strategic goals are discussed next in the statement. Each quarter, the methods should be re-evaluated to determine if they have been successful.

The objectives, or KPIs, of the management plan should be measurable. For example, a practicing dentist may aim to increase the number of patients returning for periodontal maintenance therapy as scheduled. At least one indicator should be used that is measurable to ascertain the accomplishment of the objective . In this case, the number of patients returning is a readily measurable quantity. The number of active patients seen in a dental practice is another KPI. Although many investments, such as investment in equipment, depreciate over time, increasing numbers of patients visiting a practice allows a practice to appreciate in value . Not only do additional patients bring added value to a practice, they help to spread the word about the quality of the work performed at a practice through word-of-mouth referrals. Auditing the relationships a practitioner has with influential members of the community gives a sense of how a practice is faring in the intangible but important area of practice reputation.

Marketing objectives

Marketing objectives may span a range of purposes and should challenge dentists and staffs daily to work toward specific goals. The challenge of the stated objectives leads to a greater commitment to a practice. As shown repeatedly in studies, workers who are given specific goals work harder and have a greater sense of satisfaction in their daily work . Objectives build practice unity by helping to bring all members of a practice staff together in seeking to achieve a specific goal. The challenges must be realistic but attainable. Acknowledging objectives as they are obtained gives the members of a practice a sense of accomplishment. Besides leading to a greater sense of fulfillment by staff, the focus on specific objectives leads to greater efficiency. When all members are working toward concrete goals, efforts are concentrated and coordinated so that staff are not working against each other. Continued productivity is encouraged when members who are particularly successful at attaining practice goals are rewarded and incentives are given for goals that are achieved.

Marketing objectives

Marketing objectives may span a range of purposes and should challenge dentists and staffs daily to work toward specific goals. The challenge of the stated objectives leads to a greater commitment to a practice. As shown repeatedly in studies, workers who are given specific goals work harder and have a greater sense of satisfaction in their daily work . Objectives build practice unity by helping to bring all members of a practice staff together in seeking to achieve a specific goal. The challenges must be realistic but attainable. Acknowledging objectives as they are obtained gives the members of a practice a sense of accomplishment. Besides leading to a greater sense of fulfillment by staff, the focus on specific objectives leads to greater efficiency. When all members are working toward concrete goals, efforts are concentrated and coordinated so that staff are not working against each other. Continued productivity is encouraged when members who are particularly successful at attaining practice goals are rewarded and incentives are given for goals that are achieved.

Marketing audits

The first step in a marketing planning process is conducting an initial marketing audit. Don Sheelen, Chief Executive Officer of the 100-year-old Regina Vacuum Cleaner Company, states, “a complete marketing audit is an absolutely essential step; without it, your chances of success are cut in half” . The current methods of marketing should be compared with marketing methods known to be successful. An initial assessment should bring attention to areas that are deficient. Special attention should be given to areas considered critically deficient that have hampered the growth of a practice. Such areas might include poor communication with patients or staff. There should be common elements of courtesy extended to each patient, and all staff members should practice making patients feel comfortable from initial encounters to follow-up after discharge . Ultimately, the best measure of marketing success is the level of patient satisfaction. Simple daily habits, such as asking how patients are feeling and thanking patients for coming in, may be the best way to retain patients and improve the patient experience.

An initial marketing audit captures the initial picture of a practice’s state. In a tightly knit organization, like a dental office, there are a few elements that have greatest impact on a marketing plan. Some of the key areas for the initial audit are establishing characteristics of the patient base and how patients are referred to a practice. Unique characteristics of the patients served and specific needs and services desired by these patients also are important. The expectations of patients are particularly important. The perceptions of patients should be described, including their attitudes toward the provided services, including cosmetic and other restorative services. Listed, in order, an initial audit should establish

  • The patients served

  • Key characteristics of these patients

  • Characteristics that differentiate these patients from other patients

  • Patients’ needs and wants

  • Patients’ expectations

  • Special requirements and perceptions

  • Feedback on dental services and care environment

  • Attitudes toward oral health

  • Oral health, cosmetic, and dental needs

Success of a dental practice depends on patients feeling satisfied with the treatment options offered and the quality with which those services are delivered. The patient experience extends beyond the dental chair, and the practice staff must be encouraged to foster a positive atmosphere of care for patients in all areas of a clinic. Staff members should be made to feel they are stakeholders in the success of the practice and that their conduct influences the manner in which patients view the practice .

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Oct 29, 2016 | Posted by in General Dentistry | Comments Off on Management and Marketing for the General Practice Dental Office
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