Effective practice differentiation leads to significant and sustainable practice growth
Product Differentiation is the process of distinguishing a product or offering from others to make it more attractive to a particular target market.*
Some of the ways in which dental practices have attempted, with varying degrees of success, to differentiate themselves include: spa and boutique, sedation, implant, dental sleep medicine, and cause-related (see May ’11 D.E. Issue) dentistry.
Different for the sake of being different makes no difference at all
Successful differentiation means creating and maintaining a competitive advantage that is significant, sustainable, and valuable to the consumer.
One way to achieve significance, sustainability and value is to commit to practicing at the next level of care before it becomes the standard level of care. That next level entails a commitment to oral systemic health.
Learning your Three Cs
The Three Cs refer to the major components comprising a successful oral systemic practice, and stand for: clinical—acquiring and employing the skills to contribute to the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of serious systemic illness, collaborative—the means to generate and cultivate cross referrals from health care providers outside dentistry, and communication—advising, educating and encouraging current and prospective patients to say “yes” to your Oral Systemic Offering.
A good resource for continuing to acquire and hone your clinical oral systemic skills is The American Academy for Oral Systemic Health (www.AAOSH.org).
As you and your team receive the requisite training to competently perform tests and deliver treatment, you will enjoy an additional benefit in that most tests are structured as ‘pay as you go’ that is, costs are only incurred when a patient is served, while the investment in equipment to deliver procedures such as sleep studies and the like are relatively minor.
Effective collaboration means not merely better care for the patient, who almost invariably benefits from a multidisciplinary approach to prevention, diagnosis, and treatment: it also is a key to the growth of your oral systemic practice by generating referrals from health professionals within and outside of dentistry.
My friend and fellow AAOSH Member Dr. Lee Ostler helped me realize that physicians are ethically obligated to speak with a dentist about a patient they share in common. “It’s easier to enter a practice through the back door than the front,” says Ostler “and, once you understand how to speak the MD’s language, the rest is easy.”
Communication has to do with informing, educating and persuading current and prospective patients to ‘get’ the promise your oral systemic practice holds for helping them achieve a lifetime of overall health, wellness and longevity through treatment and self care of the oral cavity. While the public is rapidly becoming aware of this, you’ll want to remember the importance of ‘running the race at the patient’s pace’. Do not make the mistake of the recent convert who, in his zealousness, erroneously believes everyone is as excited as he is about his newfound ‘religion.’
The successful oral systemic practitioner effectively translates and packages his Offering’s benefits in ways that first create awareness, then generate interest and desire and, ultimately, induce trial, that is, encourage the new or existing patient to ‘say yes’ to care. In-office displays, oral-systemic content-rich on hold and outgoing messages, hyper-targeted ad campaigns employing social media, verbal communication skills team coaching, focused search engine marketing, and public relations campaigns together comprise your effective oral-systemic practice marketing plan.
Case in point
Dr. Ellie Phillips, Author of Kiss Your Dentist Good Bye, and fellow founding AAOSH executive committee member, committed to a practice whose primary focus is on the complete eradication of gum disease and tooth decay. “It is time to show patients they have a contagious, transferrable disease” says Phillips “…xylitol and effective home care (can help) eliminate disease, and strengthen their teeth, [not to mention] your patient relations and referral base! Appreciative patients tell others. And imagine how [your] stress level is relieved when your patients actually look forward to seeing you!”
How you promote, should be different too
The recently concluded RDH ‘Under One Roof’ Meeting in Chicago poignantly illustrates the value and importance of embracing ‘new’ technology to disseminate your message, whatever it might be. According to Craig Dickson, RDH Magazine’s publisher and Event Organizer, prior to 2011, approximate average attendance at RDHUOR stood at 1200. This year’s attendance was closer to 1700. The primary item cited for this 40 percent plus increase was promotion of the Event via social media, in particular, Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter. Also of note was that average attendee age fell by several years, which bodes well for the future of any organization.
It’s not only what you do, but when
As alluded to above, the likelihood of sustainable differentiation is, in part, maximized by being first in a given marketplace to introduce your new concept(s). By securing relationships with area physicians and other health care providers outside dentistry that you are the “go to guy”, and consistently and aggressively promoting your position among your target audience you, in effect, relegate your competitors, at best, to “me too” and “catch up” status.
Don’t just do it, do it right
Anything worth doing involves an element of risk and, while it may be more difficult to measure, in terms of lost opportunity, there is often greater risk in not doing anything. The legal implications of not practicing standard of care aside, being first to position yourself as the practice in your area committed to your patients’ overall, not just oral, care is one of the most valuable and sustainable assets your practice can acquire.