2022 has been an interesting year with economic ups and downs that impacted many industries, including dentistry. Dental offices saw a surge of patients returning post-lockdown after a significant drop in patient visits during the shutdown. The United States dental market is expected to see over $15B (100%) in growth by 2027.1 Most of this increase will be due to more market demand for cosmetic dentistry and the number of aging dental patients with increased dental needs.
Political factors can play a massive role in investment decisions and potentially impact the cost of business and its long-term sustainability, while economic factors, such as inflation, can affect the market’s attractiveness. Other economic factors, such as GDP growth and disposable income, can directly impact patients’ purchasing power and directly or indirectly affect a practice. For example, dental services saw a 1.9% increase in June, the largest recorded by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. With prices going up by 9.1% year over year, medical services also saw an increase of 0.7%.2 Earlier in the year, a survey by the ADA Health Policy Institute identified the biggest challenges facing practices, and 35% of the dentists identified inflation and staffing at the top of the list of challenges they are facing today.3
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Looking at economic confidence, almost 60% of the owners and nonowners showed confidence in practice recovery, while less than 30% showed confidence in economic recovery in the US. We can see the same trend on the DSO side, where the majority have confidence in business recovery, but less than 30% show confidence in the economy recovering in the next six months.4
I present this data because we see hope in the industry’s overall growth despite its challenges. However, to take advantage of such growth, we need to identify the trends and evaluate short- and long-term strategies.
The importance of patient convenience
Since the pandemic, convenience has become a huge factor in our day-to-day life and has changed consumer behavior—many are geared more than ever toward online shopping. Food, beverages, fashion, and services are available with a click of a button. As a result, web accessibility has become much more prominent than ever before.
As a dentist, how can you address convenience properly?
- Guide and educate patients before and during a visit.
- Speed up the intake process. (Hint: this is also an opportunity to encourage reviews from returning patients.)
- Decrease wait time as much as possible or make them feel shorter than they are. You may decrease the perceived wait time by providing digital content and entertainment in the waiting room. Videos and interactive material will keep patients interested.
- Make the waiting room and your practice stress free and relaxing to lower patients’ anxiety during their visit.
- Provide entertainment in the exam room.
- Implement same-day dentistry in your practice.5
Three areas to focus on to improve patient convenience are:
- Improve the customer experience
- Provide a robust and convenient online presence
- Improve the same-day visit experience with technology
Improve the customer experience. There are several factors to take into consideration to improve the patient experience. It is not enough to consider the quality of care as the only factor impacting the patient’s experience. Many consider the patient experience to start when the patient steps through the practice doors. I say the patient experience should begin online. This allows you to create a seamless experience from the moment they identify the need to visit all the way through after care.
Provide a robust and convenient online presence. Create a strong online patient experience for both active and prospective patients. While the strategy is different for each group of patients, the goal remains the same: providing a seamless experience to patients.
Improve the same-day visit experience with technology. According to a survey done by Exevia GmBH in 2015, single-appointment dentistry is appealing to the patient:6
- 85% of patients would prefer same-visit dentistry.
- 50% would pay more to receive restorations in one appointment.
- 67% would travel farther to receive the care.
- 2 out of 3 would change dentists to book a single-visit appointment.
- Same-visit crowns are the number one patient-requested dental technology.
A successful practice results in satisfied patients, which is the goal you strive for every day. Happy and comfortable patients who receive quality care in less time tend to return to the practice, leave positive reviews online, and even increase the reach of your online presence into their networks either by sharing your content, providing you with positive testimonials, or referring friends and family.
Local advertising remains a strong factor for dentists. The number one factor for online presence across search engines and social media channels is having a strong local strategy.
Consolidate marketing efforts to increase value on the dollar spent. Eliminate campaigns that have not worked for the past years and focus on consolidating efforts. Instead, focus on improving the customer experience, community management, and engagement strategies.
Dentists will face the same challenges as other industries or sectors of the health-care industry. Patients will focus more on convenience and be quick to change their minds with inefficiencies and bad customer experiences. Searching online for quality care will become more prominent. This is where it will be important to work on online reviews and the customer experience to ensure you are differentiating yourself from your competitors.
More patients will self-diagnose online before visiting a dentist.7 Having informational blog articles, content, and videos on the website and across social media channels will ensure patients are not misinformed. Also, educating patients will allow you to establish trust and build a relationship before they visit your practice.
Teledentistry. This can be a mix of opportunity and cost for dentists. While teledentistry will create opportunities for dentists to tap into a much larger market to provide care to the elderly, the disabled, and those who still may be uncomfortable receiving care physically during the pandemic, at the same time it is hard to maintain and requires resources. However, teledentistry creates convenience, eliminates barriers for patients, and builds accessibility. Eliminating obstacles helps with customer retention and acquisition of new patients.
Customer relationship management (CRM) systems. These will allow dentists to curate successful and automated patient-nurturing strategies, increasing the retention of active patients and acquiring prospective patients. Automation will become a huge part of improving patient convenience. Relationship management will allow you to get closer to your patients, manage appointments, and curate personalized content for each patient based on their classification, preference, and history.
Artificial intelligence (AI). The use of AI in dentistry is not a new concept. AI has made many procedures and processes more effective in the dental industry, for both labs and practices. Robots are also slowly coming into play, which can impact practicing dentistry. While these robots are not available in all countries, they can start penetrating the markets after China successfully implements the robots in dentistry.8 Normally, these robots are used for basic procedures such as prophies and extractions.
3D printing. Fabrication for provisional restorations, preventive care appliances, and aligners is becoming less expensive and less time consuming with the help of 3D printers. This can help shorten the turnaround time for patients and can increase the opportunity for subscription-based online services that go directly to consumers. So far, such companies have operated in the aligner business with many ups and downs. It will be interesting to see if direct-to-consumer can expand further into the space. At present, this seems unlikely.
Digital impressions and digital dentistry. Digital impressions have been the latest technology to aid dentists with capturing impressions of the mouth without the need for traditional impressions. Dentists can easily create a virtual model of soft and hard tissue in the mouth with accuracy and precision for various purposes, improving patient comfort and satisfaction. This also helps labs streamline workflows and reduce remakes resulting from old-fashioned model procedures. With digital dentistry, less experienced dental students can benefit from augmented reality (AR) technology, receive direct feedback, and move away from reliance on live patients.
Maximizing technology for a great patient experience
Optimize your website. It is not enough to simply have a website. It is important to ensure that your website has a well-established user experience that drives the user from one page to another and attempts to answer most of the questions the prospective or active patient might have about your practice. Draw your patient journey and anticipate the most frequent questions. Try to answer them on the respective pages of your website. Make the most important information available and accessible. Put yourself in the patient’s shoes and identify how they might search for a new doctor or select a practice. Use dental-related SEO keywords and make sure that the website is mobile-friendly and loads up fast. Keep in mind that, on average, 70% of the total traffic to any website from the consumer side comes from mobile.9 For more information, see my article on creating an appealing smile gallery for your website.10
Enhance your web presence. Be sure you have a widespread integrated online presence. Enhancing your web presence is not limited to the website. You must also ensure that you are on social media channels such as Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. Answer common questions, provide valuable information and resources, and offer a peek inside your dental practice. Create valuable content to put yourself out there as an subject matter expert. In the meantime, don’t forget to show your fun side to patients to build long-lasting relationships. Remember that quality content results in more engagement, and more engagement means more traffic to the website. It impacts your social media, and also it affects your website SEO.
Embrace video. 82% of consumer traffic in 2022 consumed about 100 minutes of daily video content.11 Use video content to increase interactivity and engagement on your website and social media accounts.
Maximize reviews. Encourage your patients to leave online reviews on Yelp and Google. More than ever, patients look to these reviews to make practice selections. High-quality reviews impact your ability to grow your practice and also impact your SEO and Google rankings, which results in more patients. See my article on improving your online reviews.
Editor’s note: This article appeared in the December 2022 print edition of Dental Economics magazine. Dentists in North America are eligible for a complimentary print subscription. Sign up here.
1. Masson G. US dental market expected to grow $15B+ by 2027: 3 factors driving demand. Becker’s Dental + DSO Review. May 17, 2021. https://www.beckersdental.com/supply-chain/36659-us-dental-market-expected-to-grow-15b-by-2027-3-factors-driving-demand.html
2. Garvin J. Dental service affected by country’s high inflation. American Dental Association. July 19, 2022. https://www.ada.org/publications/ada-news/2022/july/dental-services-affected-by-countrys-high-inflation
3. Garvin J. HPI launches new economic poll. American Dental Association. January 28, 2022. https://www.ada.org/publications/ada-news/2022/january/hpi-launches-new-economic-poll
4. Economic Outlook and Emerging Issues in Dentistry Week of September 12, 2022. American Dental Association Health Policy Institute. 2022. https://www.ada.org/-/media/project/ada-organization/ada/ada-org/files/resources/research/hpi/sept2022_hpi_economic_outlook_dentistry_report_main.pdf?rev=b3cea51ac3654a79a01fdd595b8898f8&hash=F41D8AC9257A57A710A16322BA3014A4
5. The real ROI of same-day dentistry: The hidden savings of glidewell.io. Glidewell. July 8, 2022. https://glidewelldental.com/company/blog/the-real-roi-of-same-day-dentistry-the-hidden-savings-of-glidewell-io-tm
6. Zimmerman B. Survey: 44% of Americans self-diagnose online instead of visiting medical professional. Becker’s Hospital Review. February 16, 2018. https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/quality/survey-44-of-americans-self-diagnose-online-instead-of-visiting-medical-professional.html
7. Patient comfort, fewer visits. Dentsply Sirona. November 2015. https://www.dentsplysirona.com/content/dam/flagship/de-de/loesungen/topics/single-visit-dentistry/pdf/en/advantages/patient-comfort/Whitepaper_Study_Exevia_2015.pdf
8. De La Bastide D. A Chinese robot just performed the first fully automated dental surgery ever. Interesting Engineering. September 23, 2017. https://interestingengineering.com/innovation/a-chinese-robot-just-performed-the-first-fully-automated-dental-surgery-ever
9. Dobrilova T. The most relevant mobile marketing statistics in 2022. Review42. Updated May 29, 2022. https://review42.com/resources/mobile-marketing-statistics/
10. Moojedi B. How can dentists create an appealing smile fallery on the website? Behtash Moojedi. October 17, 2021. https://www.marketingbyb.com/digital-marketing/how-dentists-create-appealing-smile-gallery-for-website/
11. VNI Complete Forecast Highlights. Cisco. 2018. https://www.cisco.com/c/dam/m/en_us/solutions/service-provider/vni-forecast-highlights/pdf/Global_Device_Growth_Traffic_Profiles.pdf