The French author François de la Rochefoucauld said, “The only thing constant in life is change.” This maxim is an apt description of the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) during the past 10 years.
When we first joined the AAO Board 10 years ago, members used e-mail but often still communicated with each other via fax and phone. The House of Delegates used a book of proposed resolutions that was a few inches thick. At each Board of Trustees meeting, we had a Board book that was also a few inches thick. Today, these methods have largely given way to frequent e-mails and the use of Dropbox and Sharepoint to circulate and collaborate on motions and documents.
AAO members enjoy the convenience of reading the American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics on ajodo.org and receiving association news via aaoinfo.org , the eBulletin, the member app, and social media outlets—in addition to the printed Bulletin . Technology has also made it possible for the AAO to offer many of its numerous marketing, practice management, and patient education materials as free downloads on aaoinfo.org , rather than requiring members to call the AAO office and purchase materials.
Technology has definitely been our friend. Of equal importance, however, is the fact that a member who wishes to communicate with a person can still call the AAO office to ask about a meeting, contact the Legal Department or the Library, obtain guidance in customizing AAO marketing materials, or request help with other practice management needs.
The AAO has always focused primarily on protecting the specialty and serving the needs of its members, while ensuring that members can provide the best possible treatment for their patients. Those standards, set by all of the leaders who preceded us, have never changed. During the past 10 years, however, a perfect storm of intensified outside pressures, demographic changes, and new opportunities has posed challenges to leaders and brought out unprecedented strengths in the association.
The AAO Board responded to the challenging environment facing the specialty first by deepening its strategic capabilities. During our early years on the Board, the AAO Strategic Plan was developed as a tool to keep our focus on the greatest concerns of the association and the specialty. We now include in the strategic plan a few critical issues to focus our efforts and marshal our resources. Each year during the annual Board planning session, the strategic plan and critical issues are evaluated and updated as needed. The plan is then reviewed and amended as needed by a committee of the Board of Trustees and the House of Delegates, and then finally approved by the House of Delegates. We believe that this focus on critical issues has enabled the AAO to maintain its relevance and better use its resources to serve members.
The AAO educates the public about orthodontics
During the past 10 years, a major member concern has been the growing numbers of general dentists who, facing the economic challenges we have all endured and intrigued by the possibilities of clear aligners, have begun providing orthodontic treatment. Many patients thus began treatment from nonorthodontists. The Board of Trustees, the Council on Communications, and the House of Delegates realized that if we failed to tell our story to the public, others would tell it for us. The House of Delegates chose to respond to this challenge by mounting an intensive effort to position orthodontists as the specialists uniquely qualified to align jaws and straighten teeth.
The current Consumer Awareness Program, begun in 2006, has used national advertising, public relations, and social media programs to educate the public about both the training and qualifications of orthodontists, and the benefits of orthodontic treatment. The consumer Web site, mylifemysmile.org , provides similar information to the site’s approximately 300,000 information-seeking visitors each year.
Expenses for the Consumer Awareness Program have been covered by a member assessment. To ensure that we were reaching our key audiences and spending our members’ money in a useful way, we implemented consumer research. In 2009, we retained the research company Millward Brown and then recently retained Decision Analyst to conduct ongoing consumer research on orthodontic market share and consumer responses to the AAO’s marketing communications.