On Being a Resilient Practice - Beyond Just Reopening
For dental practices, the “new normal” will soon be viewed as the “next normal.” As such, this next normal demands a dramatic rethinking of protocols. In some instances, historical tactics that formerly were successful may now actually hasten failure. Success in the new normal will require new investments and will dramatically change the cost of practice operations.
Two factors have created a unique opportunity. The first factor, the coronavirus pandemic, is unprecedented in its degree of disruption. The second is the continued convergence of dentistry and medicine. But when these two factors are put into the context of “the best time to reposition a business is when an industry is in turmoil,” it presents a great opening for progressive practices to reposition themselves beyond the outdated perception of “just a dentist.”
Finally, the healthcare profession is recognizing oral care is essential care. Oral health supports a strong immune system, making dentistry an essential contributor to protecting the public from this horrific pandemic. In the long term, this will solidify a progressive practice as a respected resource for wellness. Now is the time to reposition your practice, reskill your team and then reimage itself to your patients, your community and the healthcare profession.
Simply donning more PPE or taking a patient’s temperature or similar infection control activities in order to reopen is a band-aid approach. Repositioning means broadening a practice’s scope of care and services. Reopening or repositioning – there is a dramatic difference. To illustrate, a pro football team set a goal of “getting to the Super Bowl.” They did get there but bombed terribly. Why? They weren’t mentally prepared to win. Their goal should have been “winning the Super Bowl.” Reopening is no different, the organizational adrenaline of reopening won’t sustain success. The real goal is winning, and in the new normal it’s about repositioning your practice. Stop marketing the anxiety-producing message of “enhanced infection control.” Become the beacon in your community for a healthy lifestyle, strengthening patients’ immune system and beautiful smiles. “Consumers are focused on preventative aging measures as more people view beauty as a reflection of overall health.” (“Beauty and Self-Care Trends to Watch in 2020,” CB Insights, March 2020.)
And consider: “Health and beauty are now perceived to be one and the same.” (Full Face Fitness – Beyond the Vermillion Border, Oralogix.com, March 2020.)
Repositioning will dictate a reskill of the entire team, but don’t hesitate to go outside dentistry to bring in new team members with exceptional customer service skills. The right person with the right skills will be critical. Two positions are particularly relevant:
- Dental Hygienist – With possible reduced demand for care, marginal offices closing, unemployed dentists needing to pay student debt and higher cost of business, it’s simple math for any business. At what point is it more economical to hire a fully licensed dentist vs. a hygienist with a limited license? Passive employment and simply checking the box “Do you snore?” doesn’t cut it anymore. But there is real opportunity. “The changing face of wellness and the role of the hygienists in treating patients to a new level of health should be viewed as inspiration.” (Janet Press RDH, May 2020)
- Treatment Co-Ordinator – Traditional financial arrangements are now too narrow. Collection ratios, accounts receivables and insurance processing are now just a small part of the equation. A practice needs to produce more patient care in fewer appointments and take the mindset of understanding patient financing as a marketing tool.
As the consumer continues to “pick up the tab,” practices need to re-evaluate their ability to make quality care more affordable, not necessarily cheaper. Engagement with consumer-friendly systems will create a unique opportunity to reimage your practice and monetize wellness.
- VIP Express Checkout. In a contactless society, making financial arrangements fast, convenient and safe is a must. Present this easy-to-use billing process as a new service, not part of anxiety-provoking infection control. Be sure it includes touchless hardware options (such as Apple Pay) and payment portals on the website.
- Medical Billing. With the accelerated convergence of dentistry and medicine, medical billing is now a necessity. Patients want more coverage, and practices are looking for fairer compensation.
- Subprime Patient Financing. If credit scores drop 40 to 60 points as some experts suggest, many good patients may not qualify for traditional financing. A professionally managed subprime loan option can be an excellent tool to facilitate patient care and practice growth.
- Loyalty Program. A well-designed loyalty program reflects a curated series of services, rewards, promotions and educational information for both insured and uninsured patients. True loyalty programs will offer one of the biggest growth opportunities for practices. But be aware, there is a difference between a loyalty program and a membership plan. Most membership plans marketed in dentistry are just in-house discount plans focused on cutting fees and only directed at the uninsured. A well-structured loyalty program attracts and retains value-driven patients, insured and unisured.
The very nature of dental care will always make person-to-person contact paramount, but the dynamics have changed. Creating “frictionless” access for patients and prompt personal response will differentiate practices. “Organizations that can quickly reimagine their omnichannel approach to create a distinctive customer experience will recover faster from the pandemic.” (“Adapting to the Next Normal in Retail: The Customer Experience Imperative,” McKinsey & Company, April 2020.). Online scheduling and two-way text messaging are now standard of guest services. But to solidify the reimaging, a practice needs to enhance access:
- Teledentistry – A cost-effective convenience beyond just a vehicle for prescreening or consultation, teledentistry is a natural fit for dentistry in this social distancing environment.
- Mobile Friendly Modules – Desktop internet use is falling rapidly; a practice must have a mobile-friendly website and/or a mobile app.
- E-commerce – They’re your patients 24/7, and you’re their trusted source for oral health. Don’t send patients to Walmart for home-care products. Establish an online e-commerce on your website. (Undeniably, COVID-19 will have one of the biggest impacts – if not the biggest – on e-commerce trends in 2020.)
“It’s not enough to get the sale – you need to optimize for engagement.” (“The Forever Transaction: How to Build a Subscription Model So Compelling, Your Customers Will Never Want to Leave,” McGraw-Hill Education, March 2020). Engagement is about customer lifetime value. It’s time to temper efforts on new patient acquisition with more emphasis on retention. With a broader scope of care and services, customer lifetime value will increase. It’s a win/win for the patient and the practice. The Resilient Practice can meet this challenge, and in return, patients searching for real value with integrity will respond with their trust and loyalty.