Great question from a doctor that really sees that consumerism has a place in changing a run of the mill practice into a Super General Dental Practice. This email came to me a few days ago. I thought you might like to be a “fly on the wall” during this doctor-to-doctor exchange. Hope this opens some eyes to see that 2020 was not the perfect storm.
Thank you for connecting.
Quick question: When it comes to consumerism, I have a quick observation.
We have 3 fast food restaurants near our office. Last night I passed Chick-Fil-A, with over 20 cars in line.
The Burger King and Wendy’s had none.
Why do you think this is so and what can Dentistry learn from this?
Dr. MRD DDS
Not sure, but there are several things that can cause this in any consumer driven business. Burger King and Wendy’s are traditional, old school, fast food destinations that are much the same as they were 30 years ago. Their stores look the same; menus are outdated and under whelming, and cultures of the staff and business model leave a lot to be desired. In a small consumer driven business, where the consumer decides what services and products they spend their money on, Wendy’s and Burger King have fallen out of favor. They are no longer consumer relevant. They are no longer remarkable and therefore, invisible when consumers choose a fast-food alternative. While core cultures need to stay the same (integrity, business ethics, and work ethic), everything else must change or adapt to an ever-moving target that consumers control and define. Maybe the problem is that Burger King and Wendy’s (as well as dentists) are blind to their own shortcomings. While dentistry has continued to cling to out dated practice models, office designs, and hours, consumers have, during the same time, become more educated about healthcare and become less flexible about what they want and will accept. Maybe, just maybe, dentists, exactly like so many other small consumer driven businesses, have made the mistake of thinking that consumers want what we have to sell them.
The offices that cling to the traditional model for the practice of dentistry will be the last to change and the first to fall. Dentistry as we have known it died years ago. We have to embrace consumerism (giving patients what they want, when they want it, at a fee that they can afford) while never changing the core values of our profession. The pandemic and financial recession we find ourselves in is not the perfect storm and is not the reason the average dental practice is struggling. Perfect storms do happen and we can survive and rebuild and recover. This change in dentistry has already been previewed in what has happened in pharmacy, vision, and medicine. Far from being the perfect storm, we find ourselves in climate change. This is obvious to those who take note of trends. We graduated more dentists last year than ever and this trend has held true for decades with more dental schools on the way. On the other hand, if you compare the number or percentage of adults with decayed, missing, and filled teeth in 1975 to 2020 you will find a 500% decrease in decayed, missing and filled teeth. Supply of dentists and dental schools are climbing while demand for basic dental services is diminishing. Fortunately, we find ourselves in a country and economy that can support non-essential cosmetic services that you do not see in other developed countries. But will this excess stave off our future reckoning driven by managed care, large dental corporations and DSOs, as well as the inability for the independent dentist to purchase dental supplies and equipment from “distributors” at the same price as the DSOs and large corporates practices do? Yes, your favorite dental supplier is part of the problem. The countless anti-trust cases being faced by our largest dental distributors in the U.S. should at least cause every dentist to question the structure of an outmoded supply system that inserts a worthless middle man and prevents our ability to purchase goods and services directly from the actual manufacturer at a 20%-40% discount over what you currently pay.
Wendy’s and Burger King are just “average” fast food stops with uninspiring systems and stores. Dentistry is also full of “average” dentists and dental offices. My question is: When did it become a good business strategy to be “just ok” or average? I’m sorry, but the world doesn’t need another average fast food joint or another average dentist. Far from it. The world needs the best you, not the average you. Being in dentistry as a lab technician in high school and college, doing the lab work for my dental school professors, practicing for decades and running a consulting business for thousands of dentists as I begin my seventy second year, I find myself concerned that more dentists can’t handle the truth; that the future of dentistry may not be so rosy if we don’t make a 180 degree course change in how we run our businesses.
Dentistry can be an incredibly fulfilling and profitable career, but it will be for those who act quickly by embracing consumerism, re-engaging in their practices, while committing to a career of clinical improvement.
Dr. MRD, I feel your example and question was great. I assume that many dentists would be insulted by the comparison of Wendy’s and Burger King to Chick-Fil-A and then to dentistry. Their perspective would be that the comparison demeans dentistry as a whole and their own practice personally. My thought is that Chick-Fil-A understands their clients, are remarkable when compared to other fast food stores. They continue to reinvent themselves while keeping their key values. Imagine any other fast-food chain being closed 52 days a year to honor Sunday so their employees could have time with their families. Chick-Fil-A understands consumerism as well as offering a great product. This is a recipe for success in any business.
Michael Abernathy, DDS
PS. Consider taking your staff to each of the 3 establishments listed above with the goal of comparing the overall experience and grading or ranking each establishment. Could be fun! Let us know what you find, and, more importantly, what you and the staff learn from the experience.
PSS. Don’t forget to check out and grade the restroom facilities. Hint: Your patients are grading yours.