There has never been a better time to be an orthodontist despite the headwinds of the economy; as a matter of fact we think that this moment in time will prove something we’ve been saying all along: now is the Golden Age of Orthodontics.
You read that right. Even though the economic forecast is dour, the tools and technology available right now to every single orthodontic practice - no matter how big or how small - are suited to not only help you weather a broad financial downturn but to be well-positioned to take over an even greater share of an expanding marketplace once we rebound
At People + Practice we see this time as an opportunity. Orthodontists who have adopted the insights that we recommend are already prepared to navigate their way through the storm. Some of these are cutting-edge tech that are just coming down the pike. Others are a shift in thinking that is a long time coming. Some are just common sense.
Orthodontics is a recession-resistant industry; the data backs this up. Any year-over-year decreases in 2022 are temporary dips on a longer term growth trend. One report shows that the industry will rebound and actually grow from $3.76 billion in 2022 to $9.60 billion by 2029. You want to take advantage of that!
There are things you can do right now in your practice to ease any impact of a temporary downturn putting your practice ahead when the big bounce happens. Here is how your practice can make the next few months a time of opportunity and long term success planning.
Focus on Your Team
We are all aware of the staffing changes in the industry. Your best asset is the team of people who work for you. The secret to creating a more efficient practice is to focus on building a peak performance team. You have to be as good at HR as you are at clinical treatment. With a tight labor market you will need to hone your skills, and create a flexible, positive work environment committed to retention. That means you need to reassess everything.
To compete in the job market today, you should consider a hybrid work from home office model for some admin functions (often called a WFH Hybrid). Recent studies show that 77% of employers have gone hybrid and nearly half of employees would look for another job if their employer didn’t offer a WFH Hybrid. For example, your TCs can work one or two days a week on phone consults and sales or other tasks that don’t require them to be in the office or office managers can do billing from home. You get the point. There are tasks that your team can perform just as easily from home as they can in the office, sometimes better.
Also, if you’re offering a starting salary that’s lower than the Walmart down the street, you might want to reassess and reinvest in your team. Building a strong, stable team of quality employees who are happy will mean a better bottom line even if you have to pay a little more for them. Training new people costs time and money and potentially loss of revenue due to an immature, inexperienced staff. Don’t lose your employees to a job flipping burgers at McDonalds.
Increase Your Marketing
When the economy starts to falter businesses tend to tighten up the pursestrings and marketing seems like the natural place to cut spending to survive the storm. But studies show that companies that increase marketing and communication during a recession fared better and bounced back quicker than those who cut their ad budget.
You competitors are probably thinking the same thing - cut the marketing spend. A Harvard Business Review article explains that if a company can maintain or increase its advertising budget while others are decreasing theirs, you can capture market voice thereby growing revenue. Basically, you’re going to get more business when you’re the only practice that people see on their social feeds and in their Google searches.
You also need to be agile and shift your messaging. People + Practice has built a set of marketing tools specifically for orthodontists that allows for exactly that. We measure and adapt our marketing strategy for your office using proprietary data to account for key demographics and behaviors of potential clients. We deliver the right message to the right audience in the right place and at the right time.
People & Practice is not just gathering leads either (any marketing company can deliver wheelbarrows full of inquiries to you). We make sure leads are qualified, local, and primed for your services. That’s the difference maker. We spend time ensuring you're reaching the people in your local market who want to buy your services, capturing those leads and funnel them to you in a way that is organized and effective. We don’t just deliver a list of names, we deliver leads primed to convert.
No brainer, right? Stick with us here.
During a recessionary period, people focus on self-care and improving their beauty. There is a name for it. It’s called the “Lipstick Effect.” While specifically for beauty products, this effect can be seen in our industry as well. When times get tough people will spend any discretionary income they have on things that bring joy and happiness and one of those things is their smile. Adults will still look for ways to straighten teeth and they want their concerns addressed quickly and conveniently. If you are not capturing this segment of patients seeking out non-comprehensive treatment even during a recessionary economy, then you might be unwittingly sending these patients straight to the DTC companies.
The adult, limited treatment market is going to be a huge portion of the dramatic increase of the industry we mentioned before to $9.60 billion by 2029.
Orthodontists can market to this segment of the population and make a clear difference between DTC and limited treatment under an orthodontist's care. We bring the patient into the office, perform a clinical exam, take records, have an informed consent discussion, and present all available safe options.
We know what you’re thinking, is limited treatment profitable? The answer is absolutely and innovative practices are offering it right now. They are ahead of the game.
If you look at case profitability through the lens of VPV, or Value Per Visit (case fee/number of visits), you will understand how beneficial these cases are. Properly priced and planned, limited treatment cases have higher VPVs compared to comprehensive treatments. Based on aggregated data provided by Gaidge, the average orthodontic VPV for an aligner case is between $400 and $450 (depending on the market and practice size) but can be $800+ for limited treatment.
How do you make it happen? You must have aligner lab fees that support this pricing structure and targeted marketing to reach this market. It is clearly not feasible to offer $2,500 treatment if lab fees are $1,400. An aligner partner like uLab Systems that offers subscription-free, per aligner pricing, rapid shipping and custom branding will help increase profitability.
You have to mesh this with a two-pronged marketing campaign that communicates your limited treatment offering to the potential patients already in your practice: the parents who have entrusted their children to your care. You should also market to the adult population in the local community. In these ads, emphasize affordability, convenience and your expertise as an orthodontist. (Remember, you can’t skimp on marketing now.)
Examine Your Patient Experience
A bad patient experience will have a greater impact than a good one and bad experiences tend to wear off more slowly. As you might be finding out right now, losing money in your stock portfolio feels so much worse than when you’re making money. That’s why you have to ensure you’re delivering a good experience every time because that bad one might have undesirable long term consequences.
Your website is usually the first opportunity to create a good customer experience for your potential patients. Does your website promote engagement and a clear path to becoming a patient? Let’s face it, direct to consumer companies are doing this well and it’s one of the reasons they’ve succeeded. But we can’t let them own that part of the space; we can be just as smart and capture more patients.
The busy new patient is no longer waiting on you to get back to them when you can schedule some time to return calls. That’s a fact. They expect immediate responses so they can check the box on a task and get on with their busy day and feel accomplished. Otherwise they will go somewhere else.
Using a smart chatbot is an example of how your website can increase the patient experience even before they walk into your office. Like a store greeter, customers feel personally attended to when they can interact with your office through an AI-enabled chatbot that will direct them to the exact spot where they can ask a question or set up a virtual appointment. This reduces your response time with potential new patients to zero - no more waiting hours or days for someone to call them back. Patients will feel well cared for while increasing the reputation of your office and encouraging them to convert into patients.
Wait times at medical offices are up across the board. Since 2004, appointment wait times are up a whopping 24%. If you can’t get someone new into the office within a week, it’s time to open up more slots because they will go somewhere else. Your competitors are finding ways to reduce the number of appointments, open up chairs, and make it more convenient for patients.
Practices that deploy a virtual appointment tool like DentalMonitoring offer shorter treatment times, fewer in-office appointments and seamless communication, delivering a superior patient experience, irrespective of treatment modality. The data you collect using DentalMonitoring can be used to streamline workflows and convert patients at a higher rate.
Reducing the number of in-office visits can dramatically boost your bottom line while at the same time, increase your patient satisfaction.
But as they say, stuff happens. That’s why we do have a reputation management platform that can capture in bad reviews before they get into the wild west of online review websites like Google or Facebook.
It’s All About the Timing
Speaking of waiting, the best piece of advice we can give is to start now. You don’t have time to wait until a crisis happens in order to change the way you treat patients, market your practice, and retain an experienced office team. The time is now, before we are in a full-blown recession. The worst time to make smart decisions is when you're under the gun.
These changes are not short-term solutions. During the pandemic we saw an acceleration of trends that were already evolving in the industry. We learned a lot about running a successful practice in a downturn when Covid-19 hit. That timeframe was short and we had to enact changes quickly. Some of those changes are with us for the long term.
Digital communication channels and virtual consultation technology are available right now and you can implement them very quickly. You can get up to speed on a digital practice that offers the highest level of patient experience within a few weeks.
If you worry about taking the human touch out of your process, don’t. Even pre-Covid-19, 60% of buying decisions were made before a consumer spoke with an actual sales person. Ramping up your marketing and communications now is the key to coming through this economic turmoil stronger, more profitable and more efficient.
The Golden Age of Orthodontics is Right Now!
We have two very recent time periods to look back on that help prove our thesis. In 2008 during the Great Recession and in 2020 in the middle of a pandemic, we saw downturns that rebounded to new heights.
A smooth sea never made for a good sailor. Grab hold of the wheel, weather the storm and make the next few months a time for opportunity that will create a better future for your practice. We see a bright future ahead. We will bounce back better than ever and you can be ahead of the game by implementing the strategies above. Remember, the Golden Age of Orthodontics is upon us.