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    How changing patient expectations will impact your practice

    Viewing patients as consumers can help your dental practice succeed.

    Viewing patients as consumers can help your dental practice succeed.

    In 1996, Regina Herzlinger, a leading analyst of the health care business and a professor at the Harvard Business School, wrote an engaging book, “Market Driven Health Care.”

    Herzlinger’s book was a multi-layered work that addressed the impact of technology on health care costs, the impact of technology on the structure of health care financing and the impact of technology on the emerging role of consumer choice. These three areas—cost, financing and the increasing power of the consumer—are beginning to powerfully influence dentistry.

    Herzlinger points out that most hospitals are organizations designed to meet the needs and interests of the providers, not the patients. But, this dynamic also exists in nearly all dental practices. The prevalent model of dental practice now in place is practices are completely built around the dentists. Dentist-centric. Scheduling, treatment planning, systems, structures, staffing, procurement, location and IT are all built to enhance the preferences and performance of dentists. 

    But changes are beginning to occur in dentistry. Extended hours, better and easier payment plans, online appointment scheduling, text confirmations—and these are only the very beginning. The question that dentists should be asking themselves is what would a practice look and feel like if it were wholly built and operated around patients?

    First, you’d need to have a better understanding of who patients are today and who they will be in the future.

    Trending article: How consumer-driven dentistry is creating new opportunities

    Patients are moving from the passive to the active side of the equation. They are moving from submissive to authoritative. They are taking much more control of their health care. Why? Because they are connected to massive technology that gives them access, advice and understanding.

    Patients are thinking and acting much differently than in the past. Patients are adding a new persona: the mindset and skill set of a consumer. They are using technology to make smart consumer choices, and, at the same time, they are patients. A melding of the two—patient and consumer—is occurring. They are what I term “patsumers,” a potent mixture of a patient and a consumer.

    The birth of the “patsumer”

    Because of technology, people will have a deep understanding of which dentists provide an exceptional patient experience and excellent outcomes. Technologies such as cloud computing, wireless sensors, Big Data, mobile devices and especially social media will provide information that puts greater power in decision making in the patients’ hands.

    Technologies will shift the transaction locus from dental practices, whose work has been essentially controlling patients, to well-informed patients having far more power in the transaction, shifting control from the dentist to the patient.

    Those in the business of dentistry who fail to grasp what is occurring will totally miss the future. Those who understand how to satisfy some very smart and demanding patients, because patients are thinking like consumers, are on the right track. Those practice owners and executives who see their patients not just as patients but as patsumers will realize success in the future.

    Dentists and their organizations need to wake up. Patients themselves don’t have to get much smarter. We’re now in an era of digital technology that increasingly is about machine learning systems along with machine-to-machine communication. No conscious human intervention is needed. The scale of patient-relevant data form and about dentists (clinical, historical, quality, value, outcomes, comparison data) will become massive, ultimately giving the patient immediate information and individual power on an unparalleled level.

    Also, dentists and their organizations must realize ultimately they have two sets of customers: the dental benefits companies and the patients. And their technology will be informationally linked. These two customers want to select their dental care providers based on outcomes and value. Before long, all a patient will have to do is tap his or her “dentist app” on a smartphone to get the information he or she needs to make a decision.

    As the patient becomes more consumer-savvy, aided and abetted by their insurance company, a “patsumer,” patients who think and act like well-informed consumers, will directly influence the future of dental practice.  

    Up next: Shifting power from the dentist to the patient...

    Dr. Marc Cooper
    Dr. Cooper's professional career includes private periodontist, academician, researcher, teacher, practice management consultant, ...

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