Patient loyalty in modern dentistry with Mark AllenNews
Posted by: The Probe 3rd February 2020
In a study published in the BDJ in 1997, researchers looked into patients’ loyalty to their dentist and dental practice, basing their conclusion on over 1000 questionnaires distributed across the country.[i] They found that the most important factors were related to the “dentist’s behaviour and personal skills” and included “care and attention,” “explanation of treatments” and “the dentist puts you at ease”.
“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there”
Even if you weren’t practising back then, this might be the quote that springs to mind when thinking about dentistry 20 years ago. Digital technologies for everyday practice were still emerging and, over the last two decades, we have seen the development of new tools and materials that facilitate a minimally-invasive, ethical approach to treatment now preferred by dentists and patients.
Compared to 1997, modern patients better understand dental prevention from a holistic perspective and know that their own behaviour is key to them retaining their teeth for as long as possible. But patient expectations are higher too. Being a caring, responsive and empathetic practitioner is always an important part of the mix, but in 2019 it might not be enough to secure your patients’ loyalties. Nowadays, it is easier and therefore more common for patients to switch practices – and switch more than once. This can be frustrating, or it can challenge you to constantly look for ways to upgrade your dentistry.
Patients may switch for a number of reasons. In dentistry, the internet has been both a blessing and a curse. You may have managed to gather profitable new leads via your online marketing – an informative, well-designed and user-friendly website is a cost-effective tool for a practice that wants to stand out in a crowded market. In a few clicks, new patients can discover your services, reputation (via testimonials), price list and even book an appointment if this is an option.
But even long-term patients will use the internet to research alternatives, particularly if they can’t get an appointment, or if they are considering something like expensive restorative treatment. What are the main reasons a loyal patient might look elsewhere? For all types of treatment, cost is crucial. If it can be completed quicker elsewhere, this might be another deciding factor. A different practice may promote their expertise better. If your patient has heard about how great a competitor is at say, aesthetic work, via family and friends, this may encourage them to make an enquiry, even if they have been coming to you for years.
Patients are even going abroad for cheap dental treatment, the ‘added value’ here is that they can combine it with a holiday. Dental tourism may sound outlandish but for anything from veneers to implants, practices as far away as India are offering tempting all-inclusive deals, with a luxury hotel thrown in. There is not a great deal of research on dental tourism, but even without it we can see issues with informed consent, different standards of infection control and what happens if something goes wrong when patients get home. A lack of information about the provenance of materials used is another cause for concern. In the US (Americans spent a staggering $2.6 billion on medical and dental tourism in 2018), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns of the threat of mistreatment caused by communication/translation issues and the risks with flying after surgery.[ii]
Be the right practice for your patients
Keep good, loyal patients by maintaining sky-high standards that match their expectations. Know when to refer. A thriving practice will have positive relationships with specialist practices, providing an option should a patient require treatment that is beyond the immediate team’s ability to offer. If your referrals system is proactive and efficient, patients will happily return.
If a patient asks why you are more expensive than another practice, tell them that the cost reflects an all-round excellent service, with treatment performed by highly-skilled clinicians using the very best materials. Aftercare will be comprehensive and ongoing, helping to guarantee that their treatment results will remain stable for as long as possible. Speed and efficiency are not the same thing; it may be that one long appointment – rather than two shorter ones – is required to do the job to the highest standard. Material selection is key. For restorative work, COLTENE has a range of materials that offer great handling and aesthetics while supporting an efficient workflow. Its BRILLIANT COMPONEER™ is a composite enamel translucent veneer that offers high gloss retention, excellent polishability and stability. It can be used for minimally-invasive restorations that can be carried out chair-side and for a range of indications, from restoring carious defects to cosmetic corrections.
There is no guarantee of patient loyalty in modern dentistry, but see this as a motivating factor to keep reaching higher, elevating your service and upgrading your dentistry. A loyal patient will pay – and wait – for the best as long as they get what they expect and what they are paying for, which is the highest-quality care.
[i] Holt VP, McHugh K. Factors influencing patient loyalty to dentist and dental practice. British Dental Journal. 1997 Nov; 183 (10): 365.
[ii] Dental tourism – bargain dentistry and a vacation to boot. Washington Post, 1 September 2019.
Link: https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/dental-tourism–bargain-dentistry-and-a-vacation-to-boot/2019/08/30/4fd4a466-aef0-11e9-a0c9-6d2d7818f3da_story.html (accessed September 2019).
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