Dentistry is a healthcare profession with a two-fold role – to provide a healthcare service to patients and to make a profit (Finkbeiner and Finkbeiner, 2015). The relationship is often thought of as being complicated and contentious, but with a solid, ethical marketing strategy it need not be.
Dental practices, like any other business, need to make a profit in order to exist, let alone succeed. As practitioners, dentists and their team must learn to sell their treatments and services to be successful. But selling dentistry is too often associated with negative connotations and an assumed lack of clinical care. Many dental professionals dislike the idea of having to ‘sell’ or being thought of as salesmen; instead they prefer to treat their patients and provide them with the best care possible.
But, ethical marketing is not about persuading patients to buy products or treatments that they do not need or want. Instead it is all about providing customers with exactly what they require (Grace, 2002). Selling is essentially just exchanging goods or services for money. There is nothing inherently good or bad about it, it is just what you make it (Hagerman, 2013).
Selling ethically simply means identifying a situation where the dental practice can provide a service for the patient that matches their requirements. This involves asking relevant questions, listening, examining and then communicating the information clearly and logically so that the patient can make an informed decision (Grace, 2002).
Take for example a situation where a patient requires an extraction of a lower premolar. There is a visible gap, however there is no clinical reason that the tooth needs replacing. Instead of offering the patient the option of replacing the missing tooth, the dentist does not want to appear pushy and believes that if the patient wants the tooth replaced, he or she will ask.
Whereas, the patient assumes that if it was possible to replace the tooth the dentist would have offered them that solution. Losing out on opportunities to upsell to existing patients by not running an effective recall system is one of the main problems seen in dental practices (Grace, 2002).
A word on misrepresentation
Effective marketing can help people to better understand the dental care available to them and how to obtain it. Equally, misleading claims can raise expectations that cannot be fulfilled, as well as making it more difficult for patients to choose a dental professional or services. Although unethical marketing is often just as effective as it is wrong, some practices may think they can gain a competitive advantage taking this route, but there are no shortcuts. Instead, it is all about the patient experience. From the first time individuals contact you, to the treatment provided and beyond, the way you and your team interact with the patient affects their overall opinion of the practice.
Making claims that are unsustainable in order to get customers not only leads to dissatisfied patients, but could also prompt a fitness to practise investigation and can be a criminal offence. Any advertising, promotional material or other information that practices produce must be accurate and comply with the GDC’s guidance on ethical advertising (General Dental Council, 2013).
It should not misrepresent fact; mislead or deceive by partial disclosure of relative facts; create false or unjustified expectations or favourable results; represent or imply a unique or general superiority over other practitioners regarding the quality of dental services when the public does not have the ability to reasonably verify such claims (General Dental Council, 2013; American College of Dentists, 2012).
Providing the best experience
Remaining ethically correct is essential to success, but so too is profitability. The two are not mutually exclusive, but independent. Identifying solid, ethical marketing strategies and applying them to the practice can ensure clinical protocols for best patient care are achieved, while also making practices as profitable as possible.
Working with a team of experts, such as those at 7connections, can help you to develop a specific marketing solution for your practice. Through the implementation of AIM (Automated Intelligent Marketing), 7connections can work with you to target information ethically and effectively, increasing product and treatment sales while continuing to put patients first.
The best advertising is always word-of-mouth recommendations by satisfied patients; therefore the patient’s experience should remain at the forefront of any marketing strategy.
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