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A Tradition of Working for the Dental Profession

The Chicago Dental Society was organized in 1864 and incorporated in 1878. The objective of the Chicago Dental Society is to encourage the improvement of the health of the public, to promote the art & science of dentistry and to represent the interests of the members of the profession and the public that it serves.

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  • January 4, 2017

Understand your patients as consumers


For several years, the schism has been emerging: A professional who combines skill and heart in their chosen career versus the business-school definition of a “provider offering product.” 

To be sure, flinty-eyed consultants and business managers bring a different lens and vocabulary to the dental practice, and not all of it bad. They can do wonders by improving work flow, financial organization, communication and other areas that, truth be told, dentists usually learn from the school of hard knocks, not dental school.

One arena business consultants have illuminated nicely is the changing expectations of patients and the motivations of new patients, particularly when it comes to the internet, insurance and cost.

Competition based on a “quality of experience,” cost sensitivity and the rise of cosmetic dental services has reshaped the modern dental practice. One-time patients now are called “consumers” of your “product” much like shoppers at a retail business.

For the technologically focused consumer, wrote Robert Pearl in a 2015 Forbes article, “the word ‘patient’ sounds paternalistic and old school. They’re convinced physicians (and dentists) object to the term ‘consumer’ because they are concerned about threats to their professional status and afraid of being relegated to the role of highly paid retail clerks.”

There are six unique “consumer” segments, explained Marketing Director Carrie Nelson of Planmeca CAD Technologies:

  • Casual and Cautious: 22 percent of patients who have no immediate dental need but are the most cost-conscious of the groups;
  • Content and Compliant: 34 percent of patients who are happy with their dentist and dental plan and are considered mostly compliant;
  • Online and Onboard: 17 percent of patients who are web researchers mostly happy with their dental care but curious about new technologies;
  • Sick and Savvy: 14 percent of patients who are heavy users of the health care system and are open to their clinician’s recommendations for care.
  • Out and About: nine  percent of patients who consider themselves independent. They often prefer alternative treatments and seek personalized options.
  • Value Shoppers: four percent of patients who are cost sensitive and most likely switch dentists.

For many dentists, this breakdown will look familiar. The challenge is to respond with flexibility. That turns on maintaining the integrity of the profession but also responding with improved service and individualized care to patients whose motivations are varied.

Dentists and physicians understand, wrote Dr. Pearl, “that healthcare is founded not only on expertise, but also on the capacity to build trust. They recognize the power of the patient-physician relationship and its positive impact on healing, on patient adherence to mutually agreed-upon therapies, and on improved clinical outcomes.”

Ms. Nelson wrote in her piece for the dental industry publication Sidekick that building relationships with patients is the dentist’s best defense.

“Educate your patients on the connection between dental health and systemic condition effects, and provide customized treatment plans. The fact that patients are more aware of their health care options gives you the opportunity to develop loyalty, and better compliance with the treatment plans you recommend.”

“Providers” and “consumers” or “dentists” and “patients?” However, the dental profession defines the terms doesn’t shake its fundamental underpinning: providing the best and most appropriate care to each individual.

The views expressed in this column are those of the writer and not necessarily the opinions of the Chicago Dental Society. CDS presents Front Desk, a column addressing problems dentists and staff members experience in the office. Front Desk is prepared by Stephanie Sisk, a freelance journalist. Suggestions? Email topics you wish to be covered to the Chicago Dental Society.
Photo: Copyright RossHelen /

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