The problems of dentistry in India seem to be fraught with contradictions. On the one hand, dentists are growing in number and the population (potential patients) is growing at an even higher rate. Moreover, the general population has a growing awareness of maintaining proper oral hygiene. The supply is relatively limited but the demand is growing. This would be a boon to dentists.
However, the patients are spoilt by the increasing number of options, inflation has been quite high so costs are going up, but the charges must be discounted to win back and retain the customers.
The dentist today is faced with lot of competition and if one is starting up a clinic, it really becomes important to get the word out and bring the patients in. Patients today expect the very best of equipments and to cater to this demand, an increasing number of dentists have modern and professional facilities. This is good, but they have higher overheads in comparison to medical doctors who have old, small one or two-room offices with a far lower rent.
Yet, these challenges can still be overcome. The true problem, though, is more endemic. The true problem is that dentistry in India is being marketed poorly. This, itself, is as a result of three other problems or issues.
First issue: A limited market for the new dentists
India has always had a rich tradition of churning out lawyers, doctors and engineers. Earlier though, the supply was severely restricted because of the paucity of educational institutions. In the past decade, though, colleges and universities have been growing at a furious pace, and there are more and more and yet more such professionals.
Very many of them have been lucky and have been able to emigrate with their degrees to Australia, the United States, Singapore, Dubai and other places. Dentists, however, have not been as fortunate. Their degrees are not recognized in these and other countries.
In other words, they can only operate mainly in India for the most part. They set up shop in their locality. They may excel in that area, they may have a good pool of patients, and they may be considered as being the “King of the pond” but it is still a small pond. This is not always sustainable.
What they must do is to educate these patients. Instill in them the need for regular checkups and for good oral hygiene. Spread this through word of mouth. Generate awareness is key to marketing.
Second issue: Prevailing myths
Many patients believe that dentistry is unnecessarily costly, and necessary only when urgently needed. Although dentistry can be costly when not managed well, it is not necessarily so. Even if it were costly, the problems are exacerbated by the prevalence of myths, and the lack of counteracting truths.
How, specifically, can you provide such truths and remove the myths? There are several ways:
Put your pricing on paper, a chart, wall hanging and/or brochure. Every person in India asks about fees and costs. People go to a hotel and want to see the tariff. People go to a small restaurant and want to see the menu readily and easily. Every other business provides these; you need to do the same. In some countries this is forbidden though.
In the field of real estate in the United States, agents are drilled in the concept of “location, location, location”. As a dental professional, your task is to “educate, educate, educate”. Provide your patients with the options that they have for their necessary treatment, especially in paper or brochure form and especially if it has images or diagrams.
Related to this is to talk to your patients about the importance of prevention, the importance of proper oral hygiene. Inform them that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, that although regular checkups could cost 500 rupees per year, it can prevent the need to spend 30,000 rupees in otherwise preventable situations.
Have a flat, fixed and verifiable (by brochure or rate chart) price. Indians are good at haggling, but you do not want to spend the time and energy in this activity. Moreover, patients are like children; if they hear that their next-door neighbor got a discount then they will want to get that same discount. Eventually, everyone will want a discount, obviating the need for a rate chart, and lowering your margins.
The one exception to the above is to give a discount to the very poorest patients. In the United States, lawyers and doctors sometimes provide their services pro bono or for free (and a few hospitals in India are doing this). In all places, though, it is on a case-by-case basis. Believe it – when done in moderation – this will build your brand and image of a good dentist.
Do not use jargon. It may be impressive and acceptable if you are writing an article to a professional journal, but do not use it when communicating with patients.
Most of all, have clean and straight teeth yourself. Practice what you preach. Your patients need to have that verification. Otherwise, they most likely will not trust you.
Provide the truths and you will squelch the myths and the misperceptions. This, too, is key to marketing.
Third issue: Reluctance to spend on marketing
The fact, or the end result of having a website can be nice. It lends credibility to the dental office or clinic. It is something that few competitors have, so it sets you apart; it can be the reason why a patient goes to you and not to another dentist.
The real truth, though, is that it takes too much time, money and effort to have and maintain it. Everyone is capable of answering a telephone; it is as natural as walking. You could answer the phone at your clinic, but if you have a patient at the time or are reviewing important medical records then it would be counter-productive. Thus, you hire a secretary to do this job. In a similar way, if you are considering having a website then hire an online marketing professional.
Proper marketing means doing the things that you can do, and letting others do the necessary things that would be ineffective for you to do.
Dentistry in India has been hampered by inadequate marketing, and subjected to more bad information than to good information.
Dentists have made it worse by allowing myths to fester, and by not spreading the truth.
Do not use jargon; use words that the patient can understand.
Marketing means communicating and educating; it means promulgating the truth and dispelling the myths and falsehoods.
If you are going to have a website then leave it to online marketing experts. Marketing means doing what you can do. It means being a dentist.