We are living through an exciting digital revolution but, if you fail to embrace the technologies that communicate with patients as well as treat them in your clinic, you risk a healthy future for your dental practice. Shaz Memon explains.

Dentistry, as experienced by our parents and their parents before them, has changed enormously – and the differences are immeasurable in a world of healthcare now shaped and driven by digital technology.

Looking ahead to the next decade, this new order will develop even further to embrace many forms of digital clinician-patient connectivity – via the internet, apps, wearable devices, social networks and teledentistry.

In-clinic patient education technologies and diagnostic tools, such as the intraoral camera, face scanners, 3D smile design, lasers, CAD/CAM software, digital orthodontics, cone beam computed tomography and pain-free injections delivered the computerised tool, The Wand, are already redrawing the landscape of traditional dentist-patient interactions. Developing technologies such as artificial intelligence look set to raise the bar even further when applied to treatment education, treatment planning and, ultimately, treatment results.

It is predicted that virtual dentists will become the first step in the patient journey and a robotic dentist has already broken barriers by fitting implants in a patient’s mouth in China last year.

And it seems patients are not adverse to this revolution. An online survey earlier this year suggested that those polled were willing to undergo non-invasive dental procedures from a robot if it meant treatment came at half the usual price.

With digital technologies pushing the boundaries of health care beyond even our current understanding, it is imperative to keep an eye on what the future holds for the profession.

Technological advances not only affect the management of patients – diagnostics, treatment planning and communication – but these new developments in equipment, dental materials and techniques also widen the choice of treatments available.

The early adopters – those already comfortable with the digital revolution – are undoubtedly meeting the expectations of a new consumer-driven patient base for whom, the latest, fastest and most effective treatments are attractive.

The more reticent practice owners who are taking a little more time to invest in digital dentistry must realise that it is a mistake to ‘carry on doing what you’ve always done’ if you wish to continue attracting patients into the chair.

Dentists need to be responsive to these shifting demands and expectations – it is no longer a profession of mechanics and quality of care can only be improved through enhanced diagnosis and precision restorations.

Health Education England’s report, Advancing Dental Care: Education and Training Review, acknowledged that: ‘Advancing digital technologies will present exciting and creative opportunities for the delivery of both clinical dentistry and education and training. Future models should be structured to take full advantage of these technologies to continuously improve the quality and effectiveness of dental education and training.’

It goes on to suggest that the technological advances of the next 30 years may be hard to predict but ‘keeping abreast of how current technology, particularly social media and digital imaging could be optimised, requires continuing attention’.

It observes: ‘Social media is omniscient, including in the work domain; there is need to explore further how dental professionals can be better prepared to deal with the reality of negative (but constructive) feedback as well as allow them to use social media to build their professional careers. This requires resilience development: both in terms of addressing personal interaction with patients and digital resilience and digital literacy. This would prepare the workforce to embrace, adopt and lead digital change.’

So, for those dentists eager to embrace the digital world to future-proof their dental practice, here are some ways to demonstrate your understanding to patients using some key dental marketing strategies.

Show them you’re tech savvy

Patients may not always be au fait with the latest dental equipment and treatments, nor able to immediately tell who is and isn’t digitally tuned in, but they do buy into practices that have a strong presence online and communicate treatments clearly and simply.

Your dental marketing should focus on your team, their wide-ranging skillset, your cutting-edge treatment suite and the evidence-based tools with which you deliver safe and effective care. It may be worth investing in a professional photographer for some high resolution stills as well as a film maker to add some rich content to your website with a short video tour of the practice. Invest wisely – ask around and try to source a company with experience in producing eye-catching content for dental practices.

Build trust with a strong social media presence

Installing all the digital technology in the world in your clinic is worth little if you do not create a buzz about it. Social media is designed to showcase you, your team, your practice and your successful patient case studies. Spread a little happiness with aspirational ‘before and after’ treatment images, introduce potential patients to each member of your team and list their skills. Share images of your beautiful practice and say why it is designed with them in mind. Explain what digital technologies you utilise to make their dental experience more comfortable. Invite questions and encourage curiosity.

There are hundreds of ways to engage with people online in a positive and constructive manner that will reap benefits for you. Make sure you shout about your USP as well any special offers and time these with major events in the calendar. Teeth whitening offers at Christmas time, for example, or adult orthodontics in the New Year often resonate perfectly with potential patients looking ahead to the festive season or an upcoming major event.

Ensure you have a bank of fantastic patient testimonials

Your existing patients are your strongest dental marketing tool. Engage with happy patients and request they leave feedback on Google that you can then share in social media posts. Additionally, ask if you may share their patient journey with short video testimonials and photos. Instagram has become the go to platform for clinicians showcasing their work.

Have a responsive and well designed dental website

Google penalises websites that do not work properly on mobile phones and tablets by demoting them in search results returned on mobile devices, so be sure to create a website with functionality and aesthetics that work across all devices

As we have become more sophisticated in our interactions online, there have been some dramatic changes to website design. Simple clean layouts with text written in short, simple sentences (without the use of dental jargon) relay information concisely to an audience with short attention spans and big on images. Ditch any unnecessary graphics and lengthy text that they need to scroll through – these are all distractions and can turn away potential patients quickly. Your practice should also have a strong visual identity with a dental website design that delivers a beautiful patient journey.

Optimise your practice website for local dental SEO

Any dental practice needs to optimise its practice website for local search listings. Local SEO uses a combination of tools and you would be wise to request the services of a dental marketing agency that understands the intricacies of what is required to maximise impact and drive new patients to your door. In a nutshell, appearing on the first page of Google is your ultimate goal, with Google My Business offering owners a chance to appear in Google’s local search results. In a digital world, where 64% of local customers use major search engines like Google to find local businesses, it is a worthwhile investment.

References

www.hee.nhs.uk/sites/default/files/documents/advancing_dental_care_final.pdf (2018) accessed 23/09/18