Why do some patients like Corporate Dental Practices* and what can every practice learn from this?

Dr Phillip Palmer & Anita Roubicek, October 2017 

The question of why patients may be attracted to corporate practices is probably anathema to most privately owned practices. Most privately owned practices can only see reasons why a patient wouldn’t want to go, and yet, corporate practices have a growing place in the dental industry, so we wanted to explore WHY patients may want to visit corporate practices and what private practices can learn from this.

So what is the attraction? This is summarised below with 4Cs (and one B) Convenience, Cost, Compliance, Clean/Modern and Branding.

Corporate practices generally have a corporate image that is repeated across all locations. This image is generally professional, consistent, and the public become familiar with it. The consistent repetition of branding in and around the practice and across all advertising provides the patients with a sense of professionalism and will often put patients at ease knowing that they are being handled by a business which reflects the image they are familiar with. Where the corporate dental practices often fall short is reflecting this image across the whole business and through the whole patient experience (more on this next month).

For private practices, this image is just as important although not presented on such a large scale. Setting a tone for your practice that is consistently reflected in all communications/ advertising and signage will help your patients to understand the type of practice you are and the type of service they should expect to receive. This message needs to be relayed on your website, in the communication over the phone, when communicated by the dentist. In fact, it is probably easier to get a consistent message communicated across your practice than a large corporate with team members at multiple venues. Private practices are at an advantage on this front if they are able to create and execute this image across the whole patient experience.

Most corporate practices are in locations convenient to the public. They may be in high street locations in shopping areas of suburbs, they may be in shopping centres, they may be in office buildings in central locations, but ALL have great signage with consistent branding, attractive to patients. Corporate practices also generally operate more convenient hours with more team available.

Many of the corporates (especially those that are insurance company-owned) market to the general public advertising their lower than average fees. At least for a new patient.

Many of them offer ‘no-gap’ pricing for much of their work. For a lot of people, the cost of dentistry is a real inhibitor to visiting the dentist. Overcoming that by offering cheaper (or in many cases ‘free’) visits, is another major reason why patients go to those practices.

A private practice could learn something from this model, using loss leader economics to stimulate business in their practice.

However, it is important to note here that there is no point offering free services if you can’t service this patient later on. Having a ‘leaky bucket’ means that patients come and visit you once only. Having systems in place followed by the whole team will lead to patients staying in the practice and make the loss leader model make sense.

The image presented by corporate practices is mostly clean and professional. The inference that follows is that they present this image, therefore this clean and professional approach is applied to their sterilisation.

This may in fact not be the case, but from the patient’s perspective, it is important, and gives a sense of comfort.

Also, patients often take comfort in the fact that no corporate would be able to afford the stigma of being found to be non-compliant/ spreading infections in one of their branded practices.

Again, what private practices can learn here is that presenting an image of professionalism and communicating the infection prevention protocols in place gives patients great comfort.

Clean and modern
It certainly is not the case that only corporate practices are clean and modern.

And there are many instances of some stunning practices that are privately owned, and give a strong sense of cleanliness and being contemporary.

However, there are also many practices that are old-fashioned, have very dated finishes in them, and do not radiate cleanliness.

I am not aware of any corporate practices that fall into this category. The corporate branded practices are most commonly larger than average, and have a very strong sense of being clean and modern

It looks like corporate dentistry is here to stay. How to remain competitive in this market has changed and if you don’t look at the whole picture, you risk losing out. Hopefully this article articulates some of the things a private practice can do to stay current and keep patients. The key is having a consistent message that flows throughout the business from marketing and getting the patients to come to your practice, through to the way they are communicated with in your practice and how your practice presents itself. The best part about this, is that this is something that dental practices are able to influence.

There are, of course many reasons why patients like private practice. These will be covered in the next article.

For the purposes of this article, we will only call a practice corporate if it is known and obvious to be a corporate practice. Stealth corporate practices are owned by a corporate, but it is not generally known to the public that they are. As such they don’t attract patients who want corporate practices, and nor are they ‘turning off’ patients who would hate to feel they are in a corporate practice.

Dr Phillip Palmer is the Founder and Director while Anita Roubicek is a Director and the CEO of Prime Practice, the leading practice management company in Australia and New Zealand, helping dentists grow their dream practices.

Dr Phillip Palmer ran a successful dental practice in the Sydney CBD for 34 years, as such, he has a deep understanding of all the different management, financial and professional issues that face dentists and is regarded as Australasia’s leading expert on the business of dentistry.

As CEO of Prime, Anita is a leading expert on designing and delivering training solutions and strategies for dentists and dental practice leaders in business, leadership and management skills required to run a successful dental practice. Anita is also a regular keynote speaker at major international dental conventions and consults with large corporations on their business strategy, team engagement, business development and growth.

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