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Mastering the Professional Referral, Part 6 - Marketing with Risk Factors

Modern marketing practices have evolved dramatically over the past two decades in significant ways. This is no better seen than in the area of marketing health services to healthy people with certain risk factors.

Every day on TV there are hundreds of commercials presented by pharmaceutical companies marketing drugs which increasingly target healthy individuals who have only risk factors for certain diseases and conditions.

Common examples include statin drugs for elevated cholesterol levels and bisphosphonates for mild reductions in bone density. Other risk factors (some of which are targeted for pharmaceutical intervention) are: blood pressure, elevated PSA (prostate), blood sugar levels, weight, inflammation, age, postmenopausal female, tobacco and alcohol use, activity level, family history, etc.

By definition, a risk factor is a measurement or condition known to be associated with increased mortality or morbidity. Its’ presence increases the likelihood that the attendant condition or disease may present itself.

Government health agencies, insurance companies, professional organizations, research institutions, and commercial pharmaceutical and varied health companies are all solidly behind the notions that when these risk factors are present, death and disease often follow.

Because of the interests of the media in selling information to the masses, public awareness of these cause and effect risk factors is heightened as the media “educates” the public and draws their attention to the health implications of having certain risk factors.

This constitutes a multi-billion dollar industry as private and public, profit and non-profit entities have a vested stake in helping our population avoid devastating diseases and remain healthy.

Because of these trends we are now dealing with a more educated and aware public when it comes to matters of health and disease. Consider the 30+ years of cholesterol awareness which has permeated the medical, food, and pharmaceutical industry. What thinking TV watching American doesn’t know about bad breath germs? And what aging male doesn’t now understand the risk factors for ED?!

Within this new arena of “risk-factor mania” lays fertile ground for dentists to get new patients. The emerging science is documenting that periodontal disease creates systemic inflammation in the form of elevated C-reactive protein and other inflammatory cytokines, and that this is connected with heart disease, pregnancy complications, diabetes, kidney disease, among other conditions.

If this conversation is further expanded to include consideration of dental related risk factors for headaches, unresolved ear complaints, and facial pain, dentists find themselves in possession of many additional risk factors which lay outside the purview of physicians to evaluate or treat – but which they will in some fashion be held accountable for. This means that they need to work with dentists as part of their health care team. In fact, it could be argued that dentistry rightfully is a sub-specialty of medicine and is due the accord and recognition it deserves.

Additionally, when considering the implications of sleep disordered breathing and the need for dental oral appliances for obstructive sleep apnea, there are many sleep related risk factors which become part of this potential marketing mix.

The two main points from this discussion is: 1)- patients are becoming increasingly knowledgeable about risk factors which can negatively impact their health and wellbeing; and 2)- risk factors create two-way communication and referral pathways between medical and dental offices.

Ten years ago, 45-50 year old people were still fairly invincible and moderately healthy. Today – ten years later, these 55-60 year old people are ten years closer to an “event” which could take their life. As people age they become increasingly preoccupied with their risk factors and in doing whatever they can to minimize them. Because of death’s looming reality, yesterday’s cosmetic and lifestyle obsessions become tomorrow’s risk factor obsessions. People will go to great lengths to lower or counter their risk factors wherever possible.

This plays into the hands of thinking and astute dentists who recognize the market trends and the associated business opportunity – and more importantly – the opportunity to help people to stay healthy.

This marketing can be directed simultaneously to the public directly (including existing patients) as well as to allied health professionals. Aging patients desirous of lowering their risk factors will be anxious to accept your recommendations to negate or diminish their risk factors, and caring physicians can be educated to appreciate the consequences of untreated dental-related risk factors in their patients.

While harvesting of this public awareness can be done with mass media in a branding or “institutional” fashion, it is best done one-on-one and at the grass-roots level. Patient by patient, doctor by doctor, with a programmed consistency and thoroughness, the word gets out to physicians and to patients. This is the essence of referral marketing. The marketplace and its scientific and demographic trends have created the marketplace demand for our services and for referrals from physicians.

Not unsurprisingly, as patients discover help, they will also refer their friends and family. After all, their social gatherings and friendly chit-chat are now dominated with talk of cholesterol, aches and pain, arthritis, blood pressure, dental problems, and blood sugar, ad infinitum!