Chris Barrow discusses how the rise of the well-informed, technology-savvy patient over the last decade has led to the evolution of aesthetic dental team

Cast your mind back 10 years and take a moment to think about how the business of dentistry has changed. It’s all too easy to start a list of ‘things that we have to do nowadays’, from marketing to compliance, and bemoan the fact that dentistry has become a more complex business in that time.

Possibly the most compelling evidence of that change can be seen in the development of an MBA qualification at more than one UK business school and university, incorporating modules on dental practice management.

Evolution of the team

Irrespective of whether they are degree educated, each team in dentistry has been impacted by the events of the last 10 years:

  • The front desk team is expected to have a higher skill set technically (think practice management software, online booking and smartphone communication) and to be conversant with the answers to FAQs on a wide variety of treatment modalities
  • The nursing team must understand its role in the delivery of a diverse range of treatments
  • The treatment coordination team (which has largely evolved during the decade in question) is expected to combine clinical knowledge with ethical communication skills and an understanding of presentation technology and finance
  • Practice managers must now be versed in branding, marketing, sales, customer service, financial management, compliance, operations and human resources
  • Clinicians are well advised to choose areas of postgraduate specialisation to develop their own career pathways and must learn the same communication skills as the rest of the team.

I seem to spend most of my time nowadays advising my aesthetic practice owners that their future success will be heavily dependent on the quality of the management team they can recruit and train. There is too much to do for the small independent practice owner who is trying to compete with corporates, retailers, local competition and an informed patient.

The P word

I want to pause and consider what I believe to be the single most important factor that has forced the evolving aesthetic practice to continuously adapt: the patient. Patients have evolved as much as any of the aforementioned categories of team member – just take a look at Ofcom’s survey results (see Table 1) that dramatically illustrate how we are changing as UK consumers.

Table 1: Percentage of UK population using digital platforms in 2007 and 2016 (source: Ofcom)

So, I suggest that the biggest change we have seen in aesthetic dentistry is the well-informed and digitally-savvy patient who knows more than ever about how to choose a dentist and what to expect. For this reason, your practice website and social media identity have become mission critical in helping prospective new patients to make that choice.

Whether they see your signage and advertising, see or hear your media broadcasts or receive a word-of-mouth or digital recommendation, the patient will visit your website or Facebook page before they make first contact with you.

The days when a website was an online patient information leaflet and dental education service are long gone. Visitors have a much-reduced attention span, are primarily viewing via a smartphone (as high as 66% of visits), and expect a rich, multimedia experience that acts almost as a movie trailer, convincing them in less than four minutes that ‘people like them visit practices like yours’.

Engaging stories

The aesthetic practice of 2008 could deliver state-of-the-art dentistry in a relaxed and comfortable environment, showcasing the experience of the clinicians, their wealth of knowledge and competitive price list. The aesthetic practice of 2018 is competing, as Nobel Laureate Hubert Simon prophetically stated in 1971, in a world of information overload:

‘In an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.’

Pundits estimate that, as consumers, we are bombarded by up to 5,000 advertising impressions per day and have become immune to all but the most compelling of interruptions. The challenge, therefore, is how to make your marketing message so compelling that people will take note.

In this context, your existing patients are your most valuable marketing collateral. Remember: ‘Advertising is product placement. Marketing is storytelling. Advertising is almost always just another interruption. Marketing can move people emotionally to act.’

When developing marketing plans, I begin with existing patients, then move on to word-of-mouth and digital referrals. Hunting for strangers is last on the priority list.

The future is now

Every team member is accountable for the marketing of the practice. Getting the penny to drop on that accountability is the biggest positive shift you can make in your business.

Whether front desk, telephony, nursing, treatment coordinator, management or clinical, every team member is a roving reporter, an investigative journalist, engaging patients in empathetic conversation, listening to their stories and identifying the gregarious individuals who will be happy to share their experience online.

The future challenge for the aesthetic team is to become better at:

  • The business of dentistry
  • The clinical delivery of dentistry
  • Innovation in the digital age
  • Retaining the human touch that will ultimately differentiate you from the competition.

The winners in 2028 will be those who prepare now.


This article was originally published in the February 2017 issue of Aesthetic Dentistry Today. Read more articles like this in Aesthetic Dentistry Today and gain three hours’ verifiable CPD with every issue. Click here to subscribe or call 01923 851 777. Get in touch via Twitter @AesDenToday.