1.15.10 Issue #410 Forward This Newsletter To A Colleague

David Clow
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The ROI of Dentistry

Let’s start with the obvious: we’re in the midst of the so-called “Great Recession,” and there can’t be a single reader here who isn’t experiencing it one way or another. It’s changing the way people think about money and about themselves, so inevitably, it’s changing your dental practice.

Even the spendthrifts among us have sobered up. People are spending less and looking for a better return than the instant gratification that marked the boom years. That’s a key word: return. An afternoon’s fun, a bauble that ends up in a drawer, a big night out with a $500 tab… they just don’t have the appeal they had when the Dow was up-up-up and unemployment was down-down-down. When the Dow and the unemployment index switched places, people wanted a better return for their money. Hence the acronym ROI: Return On Investment. What we’re getting back for the dollar is ROI. That’s always been the case, but things have changed. In the good times, only a few of us watched the ROI. Now, we’re all paying attention. Casual spending is dead, for the time being - every dollar spent is an investment, and we all want to understand the return we’re getting back.

It’s hard to imagine a better investment than good dentistry. Even a routine cleaning in your chair can be an excellent investment both in what we get back and moreover, in what we avoid getting. We get a clean, fresh-feeling mouth; immediate improvements in local oral hygiene; some good advice and feedback about our health status; and tips on improvements we can make right away. That much we understand. But what’s missing all too often is the context in which we’re making this investment - what it means, what’s prevented, what we’re getting back in the long term, and the real return good dentistry represents for us.

The ROI in Context
We’re talking about context here: the big picture, beyond the immediate and the local. That’s where the real return happens. Good dental health isn’t only for right now, it’s a lifetime investment. It’s not just about the teeth and the gums; it’s about systemic health, the overall well-being of our whole bodies. And really, it’s not just about us; it’s about our families, too. The problem that starts in the mouth, if given time and left alone, can compromise the health of the heart. It can mean sick days off work, emotional upset, short-tempers and impacted relationships, as well as bad breath, physical pain, and generally feeling lousy.

Common sense would suggest that people would spend one dollar now that would prevent them spending ten tomorrow - that’s a terrific ROI - but common sense in a recession isn’t common. When the going gets tough, people hunker down and wait for the good times to come back. They deny themselves not only the fun and the frills, but also some smart investments they ought to be making. That’s why many dentists now are seeing patients come in only as a last resort. After months of denial and procrastination, hurting patients show up with a problem that requires multiple visits and financial sacrifice. The worse they let it get, the more it impacts their whole lives. The Washington Post recently quoted a noted economist who sees a new mindset among American consumers taking hold: “We're going to see a profound change in the behavior of consumers, where they will be relying less on debt and on the liquidation of their savings to finance consumption," he told the paper. "People will be more disciplined." The expert’s prediction was confirmed by at least one average spender, a DC-area attorney who has a safe job and a good income, but whose family nevertheless has embraced common-sense spending habits. “My goal is to make sure we have cash for everything, have a really solid amount of savings and get rid of as much consumer debt as we can," he said. "If we don't need it, we just don't need it; if we have to mend something, we have to mend something."

An Essential Investment
That’s the world today. You might feel the same way about your own spending - and what you offer isn’t a maybe-sorta expenditure or an indulgence. You’re part of the new smart frugality. You’re needed. Are you helping patients see their ROI in context? Do they understand the dollar value of your dentistry in their whole healthcare picture? Do they appreciate how much good it does them to make you part of their lives in tough times like these, and what a practical investment you represent?

On behalf of McKenzie Management, David Clow consults with dental professionals on practice culture, case acceptance, and patient expectations.

David Clow is a writer/consultant for Fortune 100 companies. His book, A Few Words from the Chair, is the first book written by a patient for dental professionals and students and is available here.

Hear David Clow’s FREE podcast – HERE

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