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Dentists, Marketing, Legionnaires Disease & Water Walls

Posted Jan 20 2012 8:27am

Earlier this week I had a dental appointment (broken tooth). This was my first time visiting this particular practice; my previous dentist retired. Let me set this up by telling you that I have a serious dental phobia! Yes, I work in healthcare everyday and have done so for 20 years, but I have never gotten over the anxiety caused by just thinking about a trip to the dentist. It haunts me.

Early in the morning, before my 8am dental appointment, I checked my email and spent some time on Twitter. It was there that I ran into a link to Paul Levy’s post ( Not Running a Hospital Blog ) about how water walls and water features in hospitals have been associated with the transmission of Legionella pneumophila serogroup 1 infection. Legionnaires Disease. This is a big deal! Hospitals are unknowingly creating environments that could be harmful to patients, families and employees. And they are doing it with the best of intentions. Anyway, I digress.

I finished reading the post about legionnaires disease, and headed out the door with all kinds of anxiety. Next stop was the dental office. I found the place with no problem and walked in the front door. The place blew me away. It was beautifully decorated and serene. I loved it – until I saw the water wall in the waiting area! I was doomed! What are the odds? The whole experience was surreal. The good news is that my visit to the dentist went really well. They fixed me up and sent me on my way.

The real reason for this blog post is the follow-up email I received from my new dentist the following morning. Yes, I received an email from my dentist. I have never gotten an email from my primary care physician or any physician. Never. I once got a handwritten note from a PA who worked for Minute Clinic and that made a huge impression with me.

The email from my dentist was essentially a thank you note with a link to a patient satisfaction survey. It also contained a “refer a friend” link that took me to a simple referral form (see below). How hard was it for the dentist to send me this “canned” follow-up email or to set up the referral form? Not hard. And they were smart to ask for my email address on the new patient information form.

I once wrote a blog post about how the veterinarian who takes care of our cats is a better marketer than most primary care physicians I know.  Now I have to add dentists to the list of superior marketers! Obviously some PCPs have figured all of this out, and some dentists are still living in the dark ages when it comes to running a business. But the stark contrast between my personal experiences with my primary care doctor and my new dentist was stunning. Not to mention the fact that my dentist has created a zen-like setting compared to the institutional feel of my doctor’s practice. I know nothing about dentistry, but it could be that there are much better margins in that business that allow for investments in modern facilities and communication technologies. (More direct pay has to be a good thing.) Certainly I know that PCPs are being squeezed very hard right now and it is difficult to run a successful practice in the current environment.

The moral of the story (multiple choice): a) Avoid medical facilities with water walls b) Don’t spend time on Twitter before going to the dentist c) There is power in knowledge d) All of the above.

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