Dentists need a steady influx of new patients because, on average, practices annually lose approximately 20% of patients-of-record. COVID has created a particularly challenging time for the industry. Recovery from the Spring/Summer wave plateaued at about 80% of pre-COVID patient volume, and reduced consumer demand is projected to continue into 2021.
Futuredontics® has for over 30 years been helping dentists acquire new patients through its 1-800-Dentist® call center, the country’s first and still-largest source of new patient referrals. The company’s response to the immediacy of the moment is, according to Co-President Todd Daum, rooted in the recognition that “consumers have always had a high level of anxiety around dentistry; that base level of anxiety has been exacerbated by COVID; and dentists as a group have traditionally not been strongly oriented towards nor particularly well-equipped to address these anxieties.”
The company recently introduced Dentistry.com, a consumer-facing website educating prospective patients and driving them to dentist profile pages. The site breaks new ground by using teledentistry to empower prospective patients to connect directly with dentists, before committing to an in-office appointment, in ways that alleviate many of the underlying drivers of consumer anxiety around dentistry. “We understand both sides of the market,” says Daum. “Anxious consumers approach dentistry in a classic relationship construct where trust plays a central role. Dentists as a class are skilled technicians but are not trained in therapy and often struggle to recognize and respond to the experiential expectations of prospective patients. They in fact rank exceedingly high in the areas of honesty, integrity, and concern for their customers. But that’s not the public perception. So we have a communication challenge.”
Dentistry.com democratizes the use of the two basic types of teledentistry Through a partnership with ToothApps, an innovative cloud-based provider of dentistry-related software applications, any dentist establishing a consumer-facing profile on Dentistry.com can easily enable consumers to connect directly both asynchronously and synchronously. The asynchronous software – enabling structured text-based form submissions, including photos, describing consumer needs – is provided to dentists for free. The synchronous software – enabling paperless intake forms and real-time audio and video consultation – is available for a low, per-minute usage fee. All forms submitted by consumers are seamlessly integrated into practice management systems.
Co-President Steve Ostrover asserts, “Our goal is to eliminate concerns dentists might have over whether there’ll immediately be enough consumers utilizing teledentistry to justify the cost of monthly subscriptions for the required software. We’re determined that, at this early stage in the emergence of teledentistry, nothing stands in the way of dentists being equipped to serve early adapters and learn what works. We’ll learn with them. This is a time for collaborative innovation.”
The co-presidents see this as a natural evolution for the company. While there are many technical aspects to running a dentistry call center, the most critical drivers of success are the softer skills helping prospective patients get past the anxieties preventing them from accessing the treatment they need. Fred Joyal, the co-founder of 1-800-Dentist, insisted from the beginning that a core component of the company’s mission be helping dentists market and otherwise present themselves to prospective patients. Daum explains, “In consideration of pursuing dental treatment and finding the right dentist, some prospective patients want to discuss their concerns and care options with a knowledgeable referral agent before selecting a dentist. 1-800-Dentist is the place for them. Others prefer to communicate directly with dentists or office staff as quickly as possible. Dentistry.com is the place for them. We’re the only company in the industry serving both types of consumers on behalf of our dentists.” Ostrover adds, “The bedrock for us will forever be a new patient acquisition. And our lodestar is a resolute belief in the power of combining the human element with technology to improve the quality of communication required to bring dentists and patients together. We know a lot about how to talk to prospective patients and we want to share that with our dentists.”
There’s a palpable sense of optimism about the future. “Organizations go through cycles,” says Ostrover. “After many years of success, the company had stagnated a bit. A great benefit of getting disciplined about strategic focus and doing the work to transform operational systems and processes that had degraded over time has been the emergence, company-wide, of a different outlook on change. Innovation begins with the genuine belief that problems can be fixed and situations changed for the better. We no longer fear change. We embrace it. Because of that, with the industry now struggling and with the recent emergence of teledentistry, we’re ahead of the competition in tackling the two critical tasks required to help the industry evolve in response to the needs of the COVID and post-COVID landscape: educating consumers on new service options and enabling dentists with the required software at the right price.”
The primary expansion strategy is through partnerships, making the Dentistry.com platform available to anyone Futuredontics thinks can help dentists. Daum concludes, “We’re investing a lot of time building partnerships with companies that provide training and additional resources for dentists to extend their service offerings by adding specialized services such as sleep apnea and clear aligners. We’re seeing significant consumer demand in these areas and we’re finding innovative companies that are guiding dentists to new revenue streams. New patient acquisition in new service areas – we’re happy to be working on that.”