Using patient advocacy to grow your practice

Image of female pointing to text saying let me help you

Wouldn’t it be great if you could reduce your marketing budget and let your patients do all the hard work for you? Impossible do you think? Certainly challenging at first but certainly not impossible. There are dentists already doing this and in this article, we will share some insights to start you towards patient advocacy.

Traditionally, dental practices have invested in digital and other forms of promotion and advertising and have often invested quite heavily to attract a steady stream of new patients to their practice. Whilst this has worked for a while and will continue to work if you have a healthy marketing budget, this approach is now becoming less effective.

Patients have far greater choice as to where they go for orthodontic treatment and this now includes direct to consumer marketing from a number of aligner companies. GDP’s are routinely offering teeth straightening and if you have an established relationship with a practice, why look elsewhere for orthodontics? This has resulted in an increased supply of orthodontic solutions and although the demand is growing as more adults want a beautiful smile, the capacity to supply orthodontics, in some areas, has outstripped the number of patients seeking treatment.

Marketing your services

When you post on social media, you have little control over who sees your content. This is tightly managed by the social media giants who, for sound economic reasons, favour delivery of paid content. Whereas before you could be reassured that posts would reach those who follow you or search for your content, this is far less certain now leading to diminishing returns from your investment in digital marketing.

The other reason traditional marketing of dental services is becoming less effective is that consumer habits are changing. Patients are seeking advice about treatments elsewhere and you need to be agile to remain in the conversation. Think about something you purchased recently, did you rely solely on the manufacturers’ marketing material or did you scroll a bit further down and read the reviews?

Whilst it might seem obvious that gaining testimonials from happy patients is a good thing to do, how many practices proactively do this? In our experience, very few, yet this is a great way to market yourself at low cost. Using testimonials on websites and on social media helps to encourage new patients to seek more information about starting treatment. But patients need to be encouraged to do this and this work starts right at the beginning of treatment. 

Making the patient experience better

You would have seen a theme of patient engagement running through all the articles we have written about orthodontic marketing. Orthodontics gives you the opportunity to develop a long and successful relationship with a patient and you do this by making sure you, and your team, deliver an exceptional experience at every opportunity. 

This does not need to be complicated or regimented, it simply means showing an interest in the patient, remembering small details like a holiday they have taken between appointments, or commenting on the amazing progress they are making. During your next team meeting, list every interaction you have with the patient both in the practice and outside. You will find the list is quite long and often involving multiple people. Then ask yourself, how you can make the experience even better? Taking each element separately, you should be able to refine the process and although each small change might not be noticed by the patient, the overall effect during a long course of treatment would be quite significant.

What can you do?

Leaving thank you cards on display at the practice and posting photos of them and any gifts also helps to encourage others to do likewise. This will ensure you have a steady stream of testimonials (and chocolates) in the future. You could also take this a stage further and ask your patients to write about their treatment experience or even better, whether they would be prepared to sit with a member of your team and record a quick video testimonial about their experience of undertaking treatment at the practice.

You do not have to wait until the end of treatment to do this, patients often talk about their experiences on social media and if you look for some common themes, you will discover there are several key times during treatment when they are most receptive to supporting you.

Posting content like this adds to the authenticity of your marketing and shifts the focus away from your messaging to that of the patient, something other potential patients are more likely to relate to. If you have patients who use social media regularly and have a good following, consider ways you can facilitate their posting about their treatment experience as this will also help to market your practice at little cost.

All of the above is relatively easy to implement and can be achieved quite quickly if you have your team on board. But to take your patient advocacy to the next level you need to not only create an exceptional experience for your patient but also create opportunities for them to introduce patients to you.

Every patient undergoing orthodontic treatment irrespective of treatment type will likely share their experiences with family, friends, and colleagues. If you create an exceptional experience for them, they will spread positive messages about your practice and the team who work there, which will encourage others to find out more about starting treatment. Whatever you decide to do, you are simply asking them to consider helping you by talking positively about their experience, something that has been happening in many other areas for quite a while.

To help facilitate this, have you considered handing your patient a card, at the appropriate point during treatment, saying that you are looking to grow your practice and would like to treat other patients, just like them? Maybe you could consider a simple incentive such as reduced price whitening for new patients introduced by existing patients? 

If every patient introduces one other patient, you can sustain your practice without needing to spend large sums of money on marketing. For this to happen consistently, you are going to need to rely on a small number of your patients to encourage their wider network to seek treatment at your practice. These patients are often referred to as micro-influencers as they have a good following on social channels such as Instagram or through their blogs or video blogs. 

This article first appeared in the Nov/Dec 2019 edition of Orthodontic Practice.