Thanks for your endorsement and support.   As many of you know, we are finding a way to make the periodontist the gatekeeper in our part of the universe.  And increasingly, as we teach others what we are doing, they are finding new vistas in periodontics.  I totally support the concepts that Michael Rethman is speaking about. Patients care about looking good, chewing well, and being free of pain.   And as importantly, they are looking for predictability.  What is the most expensive part of dental care?  The answer in my opinion is redoing failed dentistry, either due to inadequate diagnosis or inadequate treatment.  With appropriate diagnosis and treatment planning, something that all of us are trained to do, we can see patients and direct their care to a predictable result.  And believe me, there is a demand for predictability.  We just have to let patients know that we are the doctors to provide that.

Can we do this collectively?  Michael has already reviewed that answer, and it’s a clear no for all of the reasons that he points out.  We will not and cannot spend the marketing dollars collectively to make a difference.  In fact, I’m not sure that I would want to invest much in an organization that was going to market collectively for the fewer than 3000 periodontists who might benefit.  If I’m going to spend the marketing dollars necessary to make a difference, I’m going to spend those dollars on my market, on my practice, not as a national effort that I may likely may not benefit from.

Let’s attach numbers to this.  The recommendation that I make to periodontists is to devote 5% of your yearly budget to marketing. Those dollars, if spent correctly, will produce a mass of patients who desire and qualify for your services. But understand that those services are not what we market.  We market toward our potential patient’s hot buttons as Michael has pointed out– 1) Cosmetics, 2) Function, and 3) Relief of pain.  Add to that predictable treatment, and you have a sure winner from a marketing perspective. So let’s assume that you agree with me, that you have reached the critical decision that you need to change your method of acquiring new patients.

Here is the reality.  If you are spending 5% of your gross income on marketing and if you have a 1 million dollar practice, that means $50,000 is your marketing budget.  You seek the best marketing people to be sure that this money is well-spent. If it is well spent, you will grow your practice. The following year you may increase your income to $1.5 million. So your marketing budget increases accordingly.  5% is now $75,000 and the growth continues.

One of the biggest barriers to our success is that we are accustomed to having patients referred to us.  This requires only minimal skill at answering the phone and minimal skill in achieving treatment plan acceptance. All of that work was already done by the referring dentist.

So the biggest pitfall that I personally experienced when beginning direct to patient marketing twelve years ago was that my staff was not prepared to handle the patient that arrives from direct to patient marketing.  It’s a different patient. It’s often a patient that has been out of dentistry for quite some time and needs “special handling” by your front desk to make sure that the patient is actually scheduled and special handling by you to make sure that the patient is happy, feels understood, and feels as if you are the correct person to right the wrongs in his or her mouth.

I wasted a lot of marketing dollars in the beginning by not having my staff trained appropriately to handle these patients.  Now I know what you are saying to yourself, “I have a great staff.”  I don’t doubt that. I did too, at least I thought.  But until training modules are introduced that address  phone skills as well as appropriate follow-up by your financial arrangements staff to gain treatment acceptance, you will waste marketing money, just as I did.  I cannot emphasize staff training enough.  Training will maximize your marketing success.  And if a staff member flunks the training, as some of mine did at one time, you’ll find out that the staff member isn’t quite as good as you thought.

As written in previous essays, the baby boomer population is coming of age. They need the treatment. They have the resources to get that treatment.  All we need to do is lead them in the correct direction, and they will receive the benefits of a full periodontal and dental evaluation and treatment plan. There are a number of different ways of marketing.  We are reviving one method of successful marketing that can instantly create new patients that are desirous of what you offer.  And of course, anything that we do requires a restorative dentist to complete the work. So your marketing dollars don’t only benefit you, they benefit the restorative dentist as well. And because you are choosing the restorative dentist, you will assure yourself that your patient is getting the best, most predictable care. In a few days, I’ll discuss this marketing strategy.  As a periodontist, I can assure you that it can be a pure winner.

Let’s understand that the paradigm is shifting and that we will benefit from participating in the new paradigm, that is if we want to remain independent.  Some of you are feeling it right now.  Others are not feeling it as much.  And some are doing just fine with the traditional referral model.  But for those who are “feeling the heat,” it will mean that we, individually, will recreate our periodontal practices and as importantly, our periodontal businesses. There are significant rewards by doing so.  But it means that we, as individual doctors, recreate our individual periodontal practices.  Patients are looking for you, not an organization. They are looking for the best dentist just as you may be looking for the best cardiologist if you need one, not whether he or she is a member of the American College of Cardiology.  It is your (and my) individual practice that is going to thrive or not based upon the work that you individually put into your practice and business. Take advantage of the fact that you are a specialist, a specialist in complex dentistry, a specialist in correcting failed dentistry, a specialist in predictable dentistry.  After all, isn’t that the specialty that periodontics is?  Let’s give the many patients who need us the education to find us.

Lee Sheldon
Melbourne, FL United States
Any views or opinions presented are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily represent those of the AAP.