How do patients choose dentists?
Ever wondered the process that patients go through to decide whether they’re going to become your patient, or choose a dentist down the street? Let’s take a look at the state of play in 2023.
It’s noisy out there baby
One of the phenomena that is hard to ignore in 2023 (and beyond) is the incredible amount of ‘noise‘ in the marketplace. The cause of this noise is from multiple sources but two are particularly relevant for our dentist-seeking patient.
The first noise source reflects the fact that the level of marketing by businesses of all types is at an all-time high. Recent data suggests that as consumers, we are exposed to 2000 to 4000 commercial messages a day! This is a significant increase in our exposure to this kind of messaging compared with previous years.
The second factor for our would-be patient is more dental-specific. There has been a significant increase in the number of dentists practising in Australia. Over the past five years, the Australian population has grown by 7%.
However, over the same period, the number of practising dentists has increased by 17%! What this means is record levels of choice for dentists in most parts of Australia.
The impact of all this noise is that it’s harder for you to get your message in front of your potential patient.
It’s all in the touch
As a result of all this noise, there’s been a shift from a desired one-time engagement with someone before they become a patient to multiple ‘touch points’.
A touch point is some kind of contact with something to do with your practice. This could be on social media, Google search, word-of-mouth, signage, business referral, and so on.
The consequence of all this extra noise in the marketplace is that the level of touchpoints required to get someone’s attention and make them book an appointment is also increasing.
Historically, 5-7 touch points were sufficient for the journey by which a potential patient went from never having heard of you, to walking through your door. Recent data, however, suggests that it may require 10 to 20 touch points for a potential patient to go through this process.
Therefore, the process of patients choosing dentists is really about the breadth of exposure of your message, across multiple channels, rather than one single contact with you.
To be clear, even though a potential patient needs to see multiple touchpoints to decide whether to choose your practice, this doesn’t mean that this process takes a long time.
For example, if a patient has a searing toothache, they may go through this touch point process in just a matter of minutes – ie. they ask a friend, do a Google search, visit your website, read a few Google reviews and hey presto, they know which dentist to call.
Let’s have a look at each possible touchpoint in more detail.
Word of mouth
Word-of-mouth marketing is still very important, but is becoming less important as time progresses, mainly because of the high volumes of other review sources available.
This is not to say that you shouldn’t do your best to provide a positive experience for patients and generate great referrals. It’s just that solely relying on word-of-mouth is no longer an option for most dental practices.
You definitely don’t want word-of-mouth about your practice being heavily negative. However, a handful of satisfied patients is not going to dramatically impact the process by which people choose to become a patient of your practice.
The Google Gorilla
In Australia, Google has a 94% market share among search engines. Not surprisingly, this means you need to have a strong presence in Google. This includes a strong organic presence where you are prominently on the map and in the top 10 listings.
This organic presence should be supplemented with a strong body of Google reviews (each review can be a touch point), and Google ads. Apart from the priority given to ads in Google search results (the ads appear first), there is growing evidence that Google ads boost your presence in the organic rankings too.
In our journey to maximise touch points for our potential patients, a good presence in aggregate sites is helpful too. While the Yellow Pages (physical or digital) was historically the best place to go, this is no longer the case.
The strongest site in dentistry is www.dentist.com.au and most practices already have a free listing there. There is the opportunity to upgrade your listing for a fee, which gives the benefit of appearing strongly in neighbouring suburbs too. Other websites such as www.australiastopdentists.com.au endeavour to help patients choose a dentist in their local area.
Centaur has a partnership with a range of different marketing platforms, which can expand the reach of your marketing message so you can increase your touch points and ultimately, boost new patients to your practice.
While social media provides an obvious opportunity for more touch points, there is one key difference between social media and the other examples listed. Your potential patient is typically not on social media to find a dentist, therefore any messages from your practice are typically less effective in social media.
The area where social media can really help, however, is around reassurance. Once a patient, having seen other touch points, is leaning towards choosing you, they may do a final check on your social media pages to reassure themselves that they’re about to make a good decision.
Consistency is key
One other thing to note in the journey for your prospective patient is the need for consistency. Ie. Is your presence in these various channels consistent in terms of your brand (messaging, imagery etc)?
For example, if you have gushing Google reviews, but your website is a train wreck, that inconsistency causes something called cognitive dissonance. This can also occur where the practice seems clean and professional, but the call to reception is answered with a “hello?” rather than a more professional greeting.
Further, if you claim, for example, that your practice is modern yet you haven’t posted on your social media for months/years, this may cause potential patients to go elsewhere. Bottom line, consistency is key.
We would love it if the process by which a patient chooses a dentist were as simple as delivering one message, one time, in one location, and then the patient books an appointment.
Alas, in a modern era, this is simply not the case. Instead, to win this war in an increasingly competitive and noisy market, it is about having a consistent message across multiple channels, so that when a patient comes looking for a dental practice in your area, they will choose you.
Multi-award-winning Practice Growth Specialist, Angus Pryor, is an author, marketer, and international speaker. He is the number one Google-ranked dental marketer in Australia.
In 2022, Angus’ team was recognised as the ABA100 Winner for Marketing Excellence in The Australian Business Awards. This is on the back of numerous other industry and company awards.