By now, you’ve probably seen the ad that features a loving couple sitting in adjacent bathtubs, holding hands while they gaze at the sunset. It’s hawking a treatment for male performance issues. (If you haven’t seen it, you probably aren’t in the demographic the commercial is trying to reach.)
Other print, web and TV ads promote products created to cure, prevent or manage practically every ailment imaginable, from diabetes to stroke to arthritis. Most of the time these commercials are informational; however, as we all know, many consumers look at only the positive and selected messages these snippets provide. Most ignore the warnings, spoken so rapidly at the conclusion of the TV ads or in the minute text that appears at the bottom of the printed page.
A few examples of ad savviness
I recently made an obligatory visit to a dentist I wanted to become referral buddies with. I’d found myself treating one of his patients, and I usually try to hand-deliver my treatment notes and suggestions in such cases so I can visit with the practice staff to see if there might be a future in the relationship.
At this office, the receptionist greeted me and asked what type of braces I used. I was taken aback by her apparent knowledge but told her the brand; she wanted to know why I didn’t use another type that she was familiar with. That brand of brace, she said, didn’t require teeth to be removed.
At that point I decided to not get into a big discussion and offered to provide a lunch-and-learn where I could explain my treatment thoughts and philosophy.
Recently we were forced to use a temporary assistant for six hours. The agency said she was familiar with orthodontics and we worked with her for the day. Her experience was limited to … well, you know the drill: braces provided in a specific time frame. (say, close to six months). We asked how that worked. She responded that most patients didn’t get finished in the time frame advertised and were put off by the large monthly payments, so business was slowing down in that department. But the clever ad and logo is what brought them into the practice in the first place.
That same day, I had two patients present for treatment. The younger of the two, not yet even 8 years old, was just getting her maxillary lateral incisors. The chief concern was the usual—just making sure things were OK, and wanting to do what was right for the child (who was essentially Class 1 with some spacing). During the exam, the child and parent mentioned that treatment had already begun on several of this young girl’s friends. Some were in fixed appliances, some had expanders and one was even being treated with aligners. The daughter was convinced that she needed aligner treatment now; her dad, not so much!
Talk about treatments, not trademarks
These examples illustrate how the power of advertising, trademarking and the internet has driven patients to the orthodontic office.
That’s a good thing. Awareness of the benefits of orthodontics must be at an all-time high since direct advertising, trademarking treatment philosophies and appliances have come of age.
- The first example relates to the nonextraction treatment philosophy suggested by the appliance system in question.
- The second is aimed at the speed of treatment.
- The third is the result of intense marketing that suggests that the appliance is the answer, rather than the treatment plan.
To be fair, all the appliances provide real tangible benefits. But is that the new normal? What about the research, studies and presentations focused on the necessity of orthodontic care, the proper timing of such care and the result of evidence-based treatment planning?
Are we no longer a health profession, and instead a consumer product dispensary? More importantly, how do we morally and ethically deliver care in a profitable, comfortable and controlled manner where the practitioner is making the treatment decisions?
How to take control of the conversation
There’s no easy answer, but here’s what I propose, based on years of experience with more than 25,000 patients treated and a familiarity with dozens of new bracket and treatment designs.
- Decide what you stand for. After years of schooling, perhaps practicing for a while and some mentors, you must have some idea of what you believe in! This could be a couple of well-published authors, some investigators, or both of the above. Most of all, have the courage to write it down for you and the world to see. (OK, maybe not the world … but at least your staff.)
- Be aware of the competition. As new technologies, orthodontists and philosophies permeate your trade area, you need to pay attention. Perhaps stalking the local websites is a good place to start. Know what your patients are being exposed to. Assume that everyone has gotten or will get at least one more opinion in addition to yours.
- Communicate everything. You need scripts, collateral, etc., that make your commitment known. During your exam procedure and during a patient’s first visit, make sure all of the staff—including yourself—carefully works all of the issues your potential patient is exposed to into the conversations and presentations, so that your team is on the offense, rather than responding to questions about why you don’t do this or use that.
I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I’ve found that, especially when moving into a new trade area, being aware of what and why patients are driven to each office is a helpful bit of information.