For potential patients to be aware of what we can do, we must first present ourselves. If I want to reach patients, I need to let them find me, and there are different ways of achieving this. The first step in the process is to find the answers to a number of questions:
- What services do I mostly provide?
- Do I want to brand my business or myself?
- What kind of image should my brand evoke in people's minds?
- How much time can I invest in marketing?
- How much money can I invest in marketing?
Finding answers to these questions clarifies what I want to do, helping me establish systematic marketing policies.
I have set a number of short and long-term goals for my marketing strategies, whether they be direct or indirect, targeting people who need our services either at the present time or in the future. To be successful in the long run, these policies should be formulated by taking the benefits of patients into account. Bearing the points mentioned above, I, first, followed the steps below to run systematic marketing:
- Needs assessment - what patients need
- Self-assessment - the needs to which I can respond
- Broadcasting - different tools to tell people about the services I provide
- Targeting - defining a specific target group or groups and giving them information
Upon collecting my thoughts, I need tools to put them into practice. There are traditional and digital tools for marketing, among which the most effective, I believe, are as follows.
Public relations: Conferences, congresses, and symposia create good networking opportunities. Being actively involved in such events, particularly as an executive member or speaker, can increase the chances of fruitful channels of communication. Being quite interested in scientific work, I personally have contributed as an executive member and have also delivered lectures at many national and international events. These events have improved my public speaking, leadership qualities and management skills while helping me in many theoretical and practical scientific matters. Furthermore, taking part in such events has paved the way for more positive along with further smooth networking.
Referrals: For a business with no previous marketing plan, referrals, whether they be from friends, relatives, and people you know or from your professional network of colleagues, enable us to survive at the beginning. Especially if you are a specialist, you need a network of referrals from and to colleagues.
Magazines: An ad in a health-related magazine can find its way to a group of people who are looking for particular healthcare services. I once placed an ad on the front cover of a magazine distributed in the town where my office is located, informing patients about digital methods when placing dental implants.
Social Media: With the most popular networking sites being Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube, all that needs to be done is to combine them with professional content creation.
Website: A website is your primary online identity, presenting your brand. Depending on what you want to illustrate as your brand, you can design and create content on your website. Search engine optimization (SEO) helps to ensure you appear near the top in online searches.
Content: Creating professional content is the cornerstone of your online presence. From experience, I can say that preparing appropriate content is the most challenging part of digital marketing. No matter whether you are more active on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, or your website, you need to generate content to share. Images, videos, infographics, written stories and articles about new skills, treatments and equipment, and such materials are usually the major content you benefit from on the web.
Reviews: These reflect patients' opinions of us and our services. You should definitely be available on Maps, Google Maps, Yelp, or similar navigation programs. When searching, people always have an eye on the average ratings and reviews. Thus, it seems advisable to encourage your patients to rate you online where 4+ ratings can attract patients into your office.
If managed smartly, these tools, in addition to the ones related to retaining patients, can be used to complement and support each other. By way of example, holding a congress lecture presents me with networking opportunities and more to the point, any photos and videos taken on-site can be used as content to add value to my social media platforms. Apart from that, continuous learning means we can present our new skills with the result that patients who seek these particular services come to us, allowing us to incorporate them into our daily practice. This is an efficient improvement in our expertise and the services we provide.
Fig 1. ‘Acquiring’ skills can be boosted by ‘Presenting’ them to be put into practice (Doing). In a cycle, again we feel the need to enhance what we do by learning more (Acquiring) as the cycle is set to continue.
So far, I have talked about ways to reach patients. However, when patients set foot in our office, our job is just beginning and we have to show them they have come to the right place. In addition to being an expert in our job, we are expected to create a cool and calm environment for our patients, both physically and psychologically. In my own practice, I follow a number of principles:
- I benefit my patients. When patients come to me with a chief complaint, I evaluate their situation holistically, giving them the best treatment plans based on their status. Then, given different options available, we pick the most appropriate, having consulted the patient about the timing, costs, morbidities, or anything along the lines associated with the treatment plans.
So: Benefit your patients, build your practice.
- I love my patients. We all want to provide our patients with a treatment that, in the end, they are happy with. For that to happen, we need to know our patients and their expectations. We are more than just a treatment provider for our patients. In fact, they want us to listen to them carefully before beginning any treatment. We also ought to reduce the unpleasant side of the experience patients often go through during their dental treatment. I try to minimize my patients' pain throughout, starting with a gentle and smooth anesthetic injection.
So: Develop an emotional bond, know your patients and their expectations.
- I explain 'Whys' to my patients. Patients tend to trust us more when they know the reasons why we are carrying out a particular treatment. Sometimes I might even show them the rationale behind the chosen treatment, using textbooks and papers. I also warn them about the possible discomforts they may experience. When informed in advance, patients realize that this is a part of the procedure. However, if not warned, patients are likely to feel uneasy, leading to a possible loss of some of their trust.
So: Clarify 'whys', build trust.
- I keep the office environment pleasingly cool, calm, and relaxing. Fresh air, relaxing music, soothing colors, flowers, and welcoming smiles are all small enhancing assets that to some extent mitigate the stressful image patients have of a dental office. I also keep stress-creating appliances such as syringes, forceps, scalpels, and so on all hidden from view in order to minimize patients’ stress. Overall, I make every potential effort to improve the patient experience in my office.
So: Create a lively environment, give your patients a positive experience.
In conclusion, marketing strategies, branding, and policies to retain patients produce the most desired result when combined. It is true that bringing patients to the office is important, but so is our reputation as well as retaining patients in our circle of clients. One strategic recommendation is always to set aside a portion of your time and budget for marketing, bringing added value while helping your business to grow continuously and letting your patients receive better services.
About the author
Pedram Pakzad is a dentist and an international speaker in the field of implant dentistry. He predominantly works on short implants, dental implants biomechanics, and computer-assisted surgery for placing dental implants. Currently, he is working as a dentist in his private office, is a board member of the Iran Dental Association and he is both an ITI Speaker and ITI Fellow.
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