Responsible Dental Marketing: The Solution to Avoiding Claims and Building Patient Trust

Dentists haven’t had the best history in the United Kingdom as far as public perception is concerned. From images of the Middle Ages and barbers pulling teeth to cure a variety of illnesses to movies such as Little Shop of Horrors dentists are working hard to change public perception and their reputation.

Recently, however, the public opinion of dentistry has soured even more in the wake of the news of solicitors targeting dentists

Unfortunately, many practices only have themselves to blame for this perception of dentists being error-prone, and the factor that drives this negative public view is irresponsible marketing.

HONEST MISTAKES AND WILLING PARTICIPATION

Despite rigorous regulations on how practices can advertise their brand, dental marketing on the internet isn’t always truthful. Some claims are exaggerated or misleading, despite the GDC’s stance on responsible marketing as outlined in 1.3.3 of Standards for the Dental Team: ‘You must make sure that any advertising, promotional material or other information that you produce is accurate and not misleading, and complies with the GDC’s guidance on ethical advertising.’ On the internet, it isn’t unusual to see statements that claim one dentist is the best in a field of expertise or that another has skills no other dentist in a given geographical region can match.

Part of the problem arises from the fact that some dentists aren’t careful with
choosing whom they hire to advertise their practice. Mistakes can abound especially if the digital marketing agency the dentist hires isn’t familiar with the regulatory demands of promoting a dental practice.

However, while honest mistakes are forgivable, recent events show that some practices are willingly participating in irresponsible marketing. Attentive clinicians and managers might remember that such marketing practices are precisely what precipitated the fall from grace of a Manchester-based clinical dental technician in April 2018.

As with any other branch of medical care, patients expect dentists to be honest and to provide precisely the service they advertise. However, exaggerated claims and misleading information do more than just cause patients to attend appointments with unrealistic expectations, which can lead to investigations and potential erasure from the register. Irresponsible marketing also further sullies the already tarnished reputation of dentistry in the country, making it more difficult for everyone in the field to sustain their practices.

ENVY AND ALIENATION

Another source of concern is the rise in the use of envy as a marketing tool. This is a tactic advertising agencies have used for decades, but recently, it has crept into the realm of marketing dental practices as well. Practices are trying to seek celebrity endorsements because they drive patients to feel envious of celebrities who have attended certain appointments at specific practices. The prevailing theory around this practise is that it causes patients to desire the product or service the celebrity endorsed.

However, studies have shown that envy, while powerful, is not as effective as some dentists feel it might be for marketing their brand. Instead, it can alienate patients with low self-esteem, and it can encourage sour grapes when patients feel they weren’t given the same level of care as the celebrities.

While this level of alienation isn’t as destructive to massive retail establishments, who can hedge the loss of custom from the low-self-esteem demographic with sales in other demographics, it can be to dental practices.

The reason for its ineffectiveness for dental practices is twofold. First, many people attend practices with dental issues that leave them with a low self-worth, so they’re already set up for a bad experience. Second, many patients also present with issues that aren’t easy to fix. Mix the two conditions, and dentists are set up to fail if they market themselves using envy and seek the endorsement of celebrities.

People who already have low self-esteem and who are trying to regain some of that self-esteem back by visiting a ‘famous’ dentist are more likely to feel cheated and be vocal about their displeasure. The stories they subsequently publish on the internet about their poor experience at the practice then negate any positive effect the celebrity endorsements might have had. Since dentists see less patients than fashion brands see sales, any negative reviews stay more visible for longer and mar the presence of any stories of successful patient journeys.

LESSONS FROM PERIO CLAIMS

Sadly, any marketing problems a dental practice might have are compounded if they provide periodontal care. According to 2015 figures, Periodontists and their practices are the most likely to be hit by claims than other dental specialities. Roughly 44.7 per cent of the value of dental claims in the U.K. during that year were from the periodontics field. Of that figure, about 75 per cent of litigation cases were due to failure to diagnose or to appropriately treat disease.

In the face of such stark reality, it is clear that dental practices need to realign their focus if they are at all concerned about self-preservation. Rather than trying to market to patients by providing exaggerated claims about how good their smile will look or using envy to draw custom in, dentists should focus on promoting oral health.

In fact, using such marketing tactics doesn’t work, according to the Oral Health Foundation, which found consumers aren’t swayed by celebrity endorsements when it comes to spending on their oral health. By abandoning the unfruitful quest for new patients by any means and promoting what really matters – oral health – practices put themselves in a better position to thrive.

THRIVING THROUGH RESPONSIBLE MARKETING

To capitalise on this insight, managers should integrate Periodontists more fully into the practice, so potential issues don’t go undiagnosed. Dentists should teach patients how to maintain proper gum health between appointments so their gums stay healthy and there’s less of a potential to miss a diagnosis. By emphasising providing gentle, non-invasive care, practices can also convince patients who might be reluctant to attend appointments regularly to act otherwise.

With patients’ oral health taken care of and with them more regularly in the chair, it should be easier to upsell other treatments. Similarly, with better patient journeys overall, positive feedback about your practice should start rolling in with frequency.

With responsible dental marketing and a focus on treating patients where it counts, practices are at less risk of falling victim to claims and bad patient experiences. It also benefits the dental community, since patients are more apt to view the field more favourably, and ultimately, that is where the community as a whole can find success.

References
1. https://eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2018-06/uobc-uea060418.php
2. http://reenawadia.com/avoid-periodontal-litigation/ and https://www.dentinaltubules.com/live/how-to-avoid-periodontal-litigationin-
general-dental-practice
3. https://oralhealthfoundation.rit.org.uk/news/brand-power-beats-celebrityendorsements-when-it-comes-to-oral-health-buying-habits

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