P+P The Inner Circle Discussion: How to Differentiate & Grow Your Practice With In-House Digital Aligner Printing

January 28, 2022

People + Practice works with orthodontists across the country and we are always asked about what is going on at other practices. That’s what sparked the idea for “The Inner Circle” – a roundtable exclusively for People + Practice clients to share innovations they are bringing to their practices that resulted in growth.

In our most recent session we had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Arjun Patel, owner of Quest Orthodontics in Atlanta. Dr. Patel recently launched his own branded aligner: Qlear Smile Aligners, which he digitally prints in-office. We discussed the practice benefits, including the ability to provide profitable limited treatment and retainers on demand, as well as the patient’s benefits, including shorter treatment time, starting sooner and in some cases reduced total cost of treatment.

Dr. Patel shared a lot of information with us and walked us through the steps he took to integrate in-house aligner production into his practice and the specific technology he purchased.

The first step for Dr. Patel was deciding if printing aligners in-house was even right for his practice, weighing a number of factors before he made the jump.

“Initially it was really about improving the patient experience,” he said. “In everything we do, from the staff we hire to the technology we implement, we try our hardest to provide the highest levels of comfort, convenience and overall treatment quality.”

So when it came to in-house aligner printing Dr. Patel said that the ability to get treatment started faster, getting patients out of braces quicker, as well as shortening treatment times and producing aligners on-demand were important benefits Quest Orthodontics could bring to the table to differentiate his practice from the competition.

Cost was also a factor.

“At the same time, there’s no denying that the Invisalign lab fee is high for limited cases,” Dr. Patel said. “Printing in-house opens up significant flexibility to treat limited cases due to reduced costs.”

Once Dr. Patel decided that moving aligner production in-house was going to help his practice by providing shorter treatment times, convenience, and the ability to do more limited cases at profit he had to shop for his equipment.

Throughput and cost were primary decision points and Dr. Patel ended up purchasing the SprintRay Pro Dental 3D Printer, which can produce six models every 25-30 minutes. Of course, post-production ease and speed were also considered.

“We also went with SprintRay’s wash/dry and cure box to streamline implementation and training,” he said.

With his technology in place, Dr. Patel had to train staff and introduce the service to patients. He said that getting his staff oriented to the new tech wasn’t difficult. Even before introducing cutting edge technology like in-house aligner printing, Dr. Patel had his eye on the future. He said that he focuses on hiring the right people and manages their expectations. He positions Quest Orthodontics as a progressive practice that will always look to implement new technology and processes to improve the patient experience.

“It’s part of the culture,” he said.

They also started slowly, first with retainers, then with post-debond aligners just to refine finishes. Then they added aligner cases, first on a team member to demonstrate the workflow.

Now, he says that workflow for in-house aligners is integrated into many of the services they offer. For refinements, tweaks to finish a case can be done the same day. Debonds go according to schedule and use 2-3 finishing aligners before patients receive a retainer.

For retainers, Quest takes an iTero scan, and then gives models to the patient. If anything happens, they can make replacement retainers, which saves lab tech and patient times. Quest can offer an attractive lifetime retainer program: two upper and two lower along with models and up to two free retainers per year based on the model. For added convenience the patient can pick up the retainer from a box outside the office the same or next day, or they can be mailed directly to the patient.

Let’s face it, on-demand services and Amazon have created an expectation in consumers that anything can be delivered to them immediately. That expectation has translated into orthodontics and Quest was able to meet that demand with in-house printing. For limited treatment cases, Quest can offer same day starts.

“Same day starts are a big deal for people looking for small tweaks on a timeline,” Dr. Patel said. “Scan them, print the aligners, start them the same day or next day.”

Quest found that It’s easier to sell limited treatment aligner cases because of the reduced cost and enhanced speed. And, they have seen higher per case profitability because of lower cost per refinement.

“The ability to start patients immediately is a big selling point, helping with conversion and increasing production,” said Dr. Patel. “We’ve had morning consults start the same day in the afternoon with their aligners.”

Once you bring it all in-house, the next logical step is to put your own brand on the service. Dr. Patel called his Qlear Smile Aligners.

“The new patient benefits in comfort, convenience, cost, etc. supports our practice brand, and that’s truly helped skyrocket growth in the practice,” he said.

Aligning your brand with in-house printing might get some orthodontists antennas up. What are the pitfalls of branding your own aligners? Do you have to register your brand and submit to a slew of rules? It turns out that most practices will not ever have to worry about running afoul of the FDA.

Simply put, if you are printing aligners in-house and using them in treatment for your own patients you do not have to register those with the FDA. On the issue of advertising and packaging of the clear aligners for orthodontists, there doesn’t seem to be any issue with branding your own aligners for your own patients with your practice’s name and logo.

The real limitations are when a practice sells the printed aligners to another practice or branding them so that they’re totally separate from the practice’s brand. Then you might have to hire an attorney to guide you through the FDA’s rules and regulations.

We thank Dr. Patel for sharing Quest Orthodontics' experience with integrating in-house clear aligner printing into his practice and the benefits of creating an exclusive brand for the service. Informative topics like this are only available to People + Practice clients through our Inner Circle Discussion group. Want to learn more about our services and how to streamline your practice marketing to communicate your practice’s value, build trust, and convert more patients? Contact us today!

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