Nowadays, people’s attitudes are changing even faster than dental treatment options. The first lapse in judgement dental experts traditionally make when dealing with their patients is that they already know everything about the target group since they work with them on a day-to-day basis.
Long-term research provides a picture of important trends over recent years
For six years Straumann has been collaborating with the Prof. Riegl Institute in Augsburg/Germany to offer its customers market-intelligent patient and referrer surveys in eleven European countries (since 2013, also in the USA). The long-term scientific patient research (2006-2014), based on 20,000 surveys in more than 500 German dentist practices, reveals some very interesting trends over the last four years.
Soft factors are becoming more important for patients
While modern-day patients are increasingly well informed, they still need support to help them make a decision and put the wide range of information available in a proper context. The criteria many patients use to evaluate their primary dental practice have changed considerably over the past four years (see Fig. 2). The key unique selling proposition in terms of patients’ emotional perception is a feeling of security – that is, the feeling that they are in good hands at the practice they have chosen. Dental practices must provide tangible “Excellence in Humanity” and actively offer patients the feeling of security they are looking for.
Fig. 1: Patients feel before they think, and emotional criteria such as the feeling of security play a crucial role in how they rate a practice.
Fig. 2: Unique selling propositions for dental practices from a patient perspective, trend 2010-2014
Quality remains a key prerequisite
This shift is due not to the inadequate “layman” appreciation on the part of patients for the quality of work done by their dentists, but rather to the extremely high quality demands that are placed on dentistry as a profession. What is boils down to is this: high-quality and impeccable services by dental specialists are simply taken by patients as a given. From a patient perspective, today there are just as many good dentists to choose from as there are good car brands. Specialist expertise is thus no longer perceived as a scarce commodity. As far as patients are concerned, if one dentist doesn’t meet their needs, they can just move onto the next one.
Emotional factors form the basis for patient decisions
The findings of brain researchers and behavioural economists can provide us with a more detailed explanation of the reasons behind these changes in perception: namely, that the theoretical concept of homo oeconomicus – where behaviour is always based on logical and rational criteria – does not really exist in empirical reality. “People feel before they think” should thus also be the new solution for dental practices. It follows from this that your practice must be “felt” better than others. If a patient has a good feeling about your practice from the outset and they do not have any personal experience to go on in terms of specialist expertise and quality of service, then it is soft factors such as comfort and convenience that will drive their decision and ultimately their satisfaction. Thus, the selective perception of the practice in the form of positive preconceptions becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Changed perception by patients
The perception of implant therapy and the role played by the dentist carrying out the procedure are changing as well. Our studies indicate that today patients are increasingly including the partners referred by their primary dentist in their evaluations.
Fig. 3: The perception of implant therapy and the role played by the dentist carrying out the procedure are changing.
The Internet as a source of information for dental issues: important, but still potential for growth
While more and more patients are using the Internet as a source of information on practices and potential methods of treatment, our studies show that today a maximum of “only” 29 % of patients on average use the Internet to find out about dental issues. Here, the proportion differs according to age group. For example, senior citizens aged 60-69 – an especially important age group for implant therapy – are relatively active users of the Internet in this regard at 22 %, an increase of 47 % compared with 2011. The more information that is in circulation, however, the more people lean on personal acquaintances and trustworthy experts when making important health decisions, and do not want to rely solely on information on the Internet or their dentist’s homepage.
Note: All of the findings and conclusions contained in this article are based on data arising from surveys and studies carried out by Prof. Dr. Gerhard Riegl at the Intstitut für Management im Gesundheitsdienst and do not necessarily have to converge in every respect with the opinions of Institut Straumann AG, Basel.