Here are four tips to help your orthodontic practice navigate a more competitive market and justify to potential patients the cost of choosing your practice for their treatment.
By Roger P. Levin, DDS
It is no secret that orthodontics is facing significant change over the next 5 to 10 years. These changes have already begun in a small way and will continue to grow simply based on the new options for different types of orthodontic delivery models. How this future competitions for orthodontic patients will play out exactly is not currently known. However, there is one factor that is always essential in a changing and more competitive market—creating value for your practice in the mind of the patient.
Why Is Value So Important?
Fifty years ago, the value to patients was the access to orthodontics itself. Parents and patients were far more concerned with having the right orthodontic result than with having a practice that entertained, displayed high energy, and created “fun.” Over time orthodontics became more commoditized. Patients and parents began to view the orthodontic practices as equal in quality and started choosing where to go based on other factors such as length of time the practice has been in the community, recommendations by other parents or referring doctors, branding and advertising in community activities, and many other factors.
The future will be more “diluted.” There are more options for patients to choose from, covering a broader range of treatment models. That means the orthodontic practice—which is generally the more expensive of the current options by a significant amount—will need a way to justify the value that it brings to the patient or parent to stay competitive in this market.
There’s been a great deal of discussion, for example, that parents and patients want the convenience of not coming into the practice as frequently. During the pandemic, one of the lessons that orthodontic practices learned was that they could lengthen the interval between in-person patient visits and compensate for those longer intervals with virtual interactions (exams, greetings, check-ins, etc). Some patients highly prefer a virtual experience. Which creates a problem for many orthodontists.
The less frequently patients physically visit the office the less value they will feel toward the orthodontic treatment process. Virtual communication will be and should be part of the orthodontic experience, but the question is how far to go and how to create value in the minds of patients so that they do not equate less in-person treatment time with seeking lower fee options that they believe are equal to the orthodontic practice experience.
Start Building Value Now and Make It Innovative
We recently held an ortho think tank meeting to generate new innovative ideas to add value. The following recommendations are new and innovative and based on the premise that the orthodontic practice is already well run, highly systemized, fun, energized, and enjoyable. Without those basic foundational factors in place, adding more value will not make a difference. Once you have these “givens” in place, consider these ideas for instilling a sense of value in every patient and parent in your practice.
1. Include extra free visits to every patient.
Although most orthodontic practices certainly see patients for emergencies such as broken brackets or lost aligners, making it a formal policy and explaining to every new patient or parent that each child will receive up to five extra visits as part of the orthodontic process at no additional fee sends a powerful message. Explain to the parent that in most cases it is rare to use even two or three of the visits, but the practice wants to make it easy and affordable if extra visits are necessary. It is not enough to just have the unspoken policy, you must make it a formal benefit, and tell everyone about it.
2. Let parents know that if the case takes longer than expected, which occasionally happens, there will be no extra fees.
Once again, overdue debonds are a negative factor for the orthodontic practice and need to be managed through excellent practice systems, but very few practices ever charge for overdue debonds. This also must be promoted as a benefit of receiving treatment in your practice.
3. Let parents and patients know that they can request a virtual appointment, check-in, or Q&A session with the practice any time and there will be no extra fee to have the appointment.
In many cases staff members can be trained to hold the appointment and answer questions. In my experience, if the practice systems have excellent scripting and communication, most patients and parents will not need or want extra virtual appointments.
4. Do something innovative.
One practice we are familiar with takes age-appropriate professional photographs of every completed case. They refer to a local photographer who gives a deep discount to the orthodontic practice hoping that the family will want additional photography. Another practice refers to a photographer who takes a complete family photo including the happy smiling patient.
Bonus Tip: Give patients a copy of your benefits list
There are many other options and innovations that can be considered. Some of the above, such as numbers one and two, are already being done in most orthodontic practices without charging fees. However, they are not communicated as a benefit. This leads to another idea: Giving patients a copy of your benefits list if they have treatment in your orthodontic practice. When a patient sees a list of 10, 12, or 15 benefits, and that list is reviewed point-by-point with each patient by the newly trained treatment coordinator, that list of benefits and explanations deliver a clear sense of value versus using other treatment options.
All Businesses Have Competition
Orthodontics is a business that delivers a high-quality service, but it’s still a business. All businesses have competition. If a business creates the right level of value, then it will be desirable even at a higher fee. If not, then patients will gradually select other options as they begin to believe that the quality factor is equal amongst most of the delivery models. OP
Roger P. Levin, DDS, is the CEO and founder of Levin Group, a leading practice management consulting firm that has worked with over 30,000 practices to increase production. A recognized expert on orthodontic practice management and marketing, he has written 67 books and over 4,000 articles and regularly presents seminars in the United States and around the world. To contact Levin or to join the 40,000 dental professionals who receive his Ortho Practice Production Tip of the Day, visit levingroup.com or email [email protected].