Why growing patient demand does not guarantee practice growth

Why growing patient demand doesn’t guarantee practice growthJustin Leigh talks about why a spike in patient demand does not necessarily mean a growth for everyone in dentistry. 

There are some strong market forces driving growth in dentistry in 2021.

There is no denying that the start of the pandemic created a huge amount of uncertainty for the dental profession, and the industry. Dental teams innovate and evolve quickly, since measures have been in place that protect patients and ensure safe practice for the entire dental team, the demand for dental treatment has been growing at an impressive rate.

Just because patient demand is growing, it doesn’t guarantee growth for everyone in dentistry. In this article we’ll take a closer look at why that is.

The main forces driving demand

The UK population’s financial position

In an article by George Nixon in thisismoney.co.uk, a report by The Office for National Statistics states: ‘Britain has become a nation of savers.’ With the percentage of household savings hitting an all time high at 29.1%. That’s almost double the previous record of 14.4% set in 1993.

Spending of disposable income reduced

Over the last year British adults haven’t had the same freedom, or opportunity to spend their disposable income as they have in the past. Lockdown has enabled adults to save, and they seem to have become very good at it!

One of the large annual household costs, holidays abroad, is still off the table for most of us. We don’t want the additional risk that comes with travel or to spend the time isolating on our return. It’s likely to ensure household savings continue to increase or at least be maintained for some time to come.

The ‘Zoom Boom’

For those of you who might have missed it, the ‘Zoom Boom‘ is a phenomenon that’s impacted billions of people who’s working environment has changed from in person to online. Many business professionals are spending a significant amount of their working day in video/virtual meetings.

If you haven’t spent much time in virtual meetings, you might be wondering what all the fuss is about. But stop and think for a moment. How often do you spend time looking at your own picture on the big screen, right in front of you?

This change in the working environment has meant a much greater focus on ourselves, and many of us aren’t entirely happy with what we see!

When you combine these factors; we have higher disposable income (and savings), we aren’t spending on overseas travel and we want to improve the way we look on video, then dental and cosmetic treatments become a compelling personal investment choice for millions of people.

This is great for dentistry, so what might prevent all practices and dentists seeing growth in patient treatments, revenue and profit?

Consider this…

Overwhelmed and confused

Imagine you’re a patient looking to improve the way you look, you may not even realise consciously that it’s because of how you look on video calls, you just know you want to change. You may not be aware of all the options available to you, you need help understanding what’s possible.

You’ll probably take to Google, Facebook, Instagram and Youtube to get an idea of the treatments available. Imagine how much ‘noise’ you’ll see and hear as you scroll through all the ads you are bombarded with. Before long, you’re overwhelmed and confused.

At some point you’re likely to contact your own dentist to book a consultation to understand your options. This is the point where you’re looking for some advice, but you’re also seeking to be understood. You want someone to give you time and space to explain what you’re thinking and feeling, so you can process it yourself and feel understood.

Then you’ll be ready to listen to some options, make an informed decision and feel confident that you’ll get the best treatment tailored for you.

Now think about contacting a busy dental practice!

In their shoes

You call the practice. You’re met by a busy receptionist who wants to know some personal details so they can identify you. And, of course, they want to know why you’re ringing.

If you’re not in pain, is it an emergency?

How long will you have to wait to see a dentist?

How do you feel if you’re not seen as a priority, because you’re not in pain?

When you attend the appointment, do you feel secure? Are you given enough time to build trust? Do you feel confident enough to explain how you’re really feeling and what you’d like to change without being judged? Are you able to explain this fully before you’re shown options available to you?

Imagine how many thousands of patients are contacting and visiting dental practices every day and not feeling confident to explain how they really feel. Not committing to treatment plans because they’re not sure they’re a priority or that the treatment is quite right for them. They may even feel like they are wasting the practice team’s time.

Critical communication

Every point of contact is an opportunity to put the patient at ease, help them feel that their needs are important.

The most critical is the consultation with the dentist. This is the ‘tipping point’. The point at which everything the patient has experienced so far is either reinforced or transformed. Their fear that they’re not going to get the improvement they want or that they finally feel understood, and this treatment will deliver everything they hoped for.

The best way to ensure the patient gains confidence is for the dental team to take a ‘consultative approach’ to patient conversations. Consultative conversations change everything in the practice.

They require, time, space and an intentional approach. They need the team to switch their focus from themselves to the patient, at every interaction. This is easier said than done in a busy practice, but vital if we want to provide the optimal patient experience.

Consultative conversations don’t happen naturally, they have to be cultivated. We must learn to deeply listen to other people and foster a ‘questioning approach’ rather than a ‘telling approach’.

‘We have two ears and one mouth, so we can listen twice as much as we speak’.

This is one way to remind yourself to take a consultative approach. Another is to train yourself to ‘default’ to questioning and listening. Think about it like this; everything you need to know about your patient to fully meet their needs is in their mind.

Questioning and listening is the only way to discover it

Start to take a consultative approach to your patient and team-member conversations and everything will change. You will learn more about your patients and your team than ever before, and you gain greater engagement and commitment than you ever thought possible.

Consider this your reminder to make this a priority in your practice.

Justin Leigh is the founder of Focus4growth, a sales and leadership training company with a focus on the dental market.


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