How Dentistry has Changed in the Last 10 Years
In 2006, here are some of the comments we were hearing about the dental industry. They went like this. “Dentistry is recession proof” and “People will always need their teeth.” Marketing budgets were flush, dental tradeshows were the place to be, dentists’ incomes were at their peak, and technology was gaining momentum in dental practices. Yes, Technology was also taking over the dental practice and corporate America workplace.
While like many, I held out as long as I could, eventually a Blackberry became inevitable. At that time, no one, with the possible exception of Steve Jobs, had heard of an iPhone. Yet ten years later 2016, one out of every three cellphones in the United States would become an iPhone and the Blackberry would go become virtually extinct. The smartphone would go from an accessory to an essential, and dentistry would not prove to be recession proof after all.
Was it all downhill from 2006? To answer that question, I set out to review the most important changes in dentistry in the past 10 years. Drawing from data collected from dental articles, and others, we made some interesting discoveries that can help dentists meet the challenges of the next 10 years.
HARMONY TO HARD CASH
According to a survey of dentists in 2006, the number one challenge in dental practices was team harmony. While it is no surprise that the elements of team harmony—conflict management, communication, leadership, behavioral styles, and employee engagement—are critical to the success of a practice, the fact that this was rated as the top challenge, above anything directly related to practice financials is very significant. In 2006, team challenges made office stress a greater obstacle for dentists than income or profitability.
Today TEAM HARMONY appears to be just as challenging for the average dental office as it was 10 years ago, but it has taken a back seat to the challenges of NEW PATIENTS, OVERHEAD, and CASH FLOW. This change reflects the profitability pressures dentists are now face from increasing competition, decreasing insurance reimbursements, and a reduced demand for dental services. While those challenges must be addressed, the human element called teamwork remains the greatest asset of any business. Why? The lesson is this: Addressing team engagement can increase production and profitability can help tremendously to differentiate your practice from competitors’.
TECHNOLOGY NOW DOMINATES OUR PROFESSIONAL LIVES
Technology has become increasingly intertwined in our personal lives; it now dominates our professional lives as well. Equipment and technologies (e.g., digital restorations, digital imaging) only considered by innovators and early adopters in 2006 are now reaching the early majority stage, which is considered to be between 15% and 50% adoption. While product improvements in ease of use and affordability have certainly contributed to rising market penetration, we can also draw a correlation to the profitability pressures in dentistry. Technology increases efficiency, allowing you to do things faster and often better. The tax-deductible investment itself can reduce your overhead and provide a return on investment. New technologies such as digital restorations have benefits that can be marketed to patients and used to differentiate your practice. High-tech can mean increased patient comfort. However, technology implementation must be carefully planned with dedicated time for team training and systems that connect, communicate, and work together to create the best possible patient outcome.
FEWER PATIENTS, LESS OFTEN
For the last 10 years, dental care utilization has been on the decline. While it seems to have flattened out for now, the ADA does not expect it to rise again in the near future. When surveyed, 23% of adults stated they did not plan to go to the dentist in the next 12 months. Healthy adults no longer feel compelled to automatically visit the dentist twice a year, even when they have insurance to cover the expense. Even though approximately 60% of the population has some type of dental benefits that include regular hygiene care, only 37% of adults visited a dentist in the last 12 months, compared to 41% 10 years ago. The number of patients who visit a dentist without public or private insurance to offset the cost is also declining, from 29.5% of all dental patients in 2005, to 27.6% in 2015. As a result, total patient visits have declined significantly. In 2005, dentists had 3,417.8 patient visits a year. In 2015, that number decreased to 3,119.5. The hygiene department is one of the largest areas of growth opportunity in most practices.
UNTAPPED PRACTICE POTENTIAL
At least some things don’t change. Although new patients are often assumed to be the answer to all practice challenges, when we look at individual practice data over the years, we find tremendous untapped opportunity for growing production without adding a single new patient. Most practices do not consistently meet the dentist’s standard of care for hygiene visits, exams, and x-rays. These advantages were reviewed and the potential production opportunity available simply by meeting the doctor’s standard of care in almost 7,000 dental practices in 2015. In hygiene alone, there was an average production opportunity of $241,161—if the practice brought in all active patients for their prescribed number of hygiene visits that year. How many new patients would your practice need to attract to create the production that could be added just by retaining current patients on their recommended hygiene schedule?
With small changes to hygiene protocols and patient education, you can rapidly increase hygiene production. Every patient should be educated to know that a dollar spent on preventative dental care can save them $8 to $50 in future treatments.6 Patients will not recognize and respect the connection between their oral health and overall health until they are educated to do so.
COLABORATION IS THE NEW SOLO PRACTICE
In 2006, only 8.2% of general dentists were classified as employees.5 In 2014, that number rose to 12.3%.5 The percentage of dentists who are solo practitioners has been dropping, and is expected to continue dropping with the growth of corporate dentistry and group practices. While many dentists are content to give up the management and leadership challenges of running a business to become employees, what does this mean for those who choose to retain their independence as solo practitioners? Many have chosen to focus on the business of dentistry, enhancing the operations of the practice for greater profitability to successfully compete in their market. Others have created niche practices that differentiate themselves and use a targeted approach to attract patients. A dentist from Fayetteville, West Virginia, shares how financial pressures have changed his business practices: “In the last 10 years, pressures from PPOs, corporate dentistry, and changing patient demographics have forced him to run a better, more efficient business. By investing in new technologies and training, I’ve been able to treat patients better and faster while creating a better patient experience. We’ve also begun outsourcing our key business functions such as marketing, HR, accounting, and payroll. This has put our operations in the hands of experts and allowed us to focus more on patient care.”
SOCIAL MEDIA IS A MUST
In 2006, dentists discovered some online marketing, which was only possibly optimized for search engines. Savvy dentists collected patient e-mail addresses and used patient newsletters as a way to market optional services and stay in contact with patients. Today, dentists must do all of that while generating online patient reviews, posting engaging social media content, and connecting with patients through their preferred social media channels. The good news is that social media marketing is considerably less expensive than other online marketing channels. The bad news is that many practices are only doing a fraction of what is needed to generate a return on investment for social media marketing. Don’t underestimate this component of your marketing plan; invest in training and resources to develop a social media strategy beyond simply being present on social media.
Thank you for reading this article. While dentistry is and has always been evolving, the last 10 years in particular we have seen some drastic changes. If you haven’t evaluated how these changes have impacted your practice and how they will continue to impact it over the next few years, now is the time. Schedule a business meeting with our company Business of Dental Practice LLC representative to review your practice metrics and create a plan to meet and exceed your goals for the next decade. Thank You Jen McGuire –