Indian dentists are feeling the pinch. Today’s patients are spoilt for choice and are more demanding, while dentists seem to be springing up everywhere and patients seem to be drying up. Moreover, costs are going up but charges are increasingly being discounted.

What do Dentists do, whom do they blame?

Through this article, I attempt to bust a few myths and talk about real problems faced by Indian dentists.

But before I start, here is a disclaimer: I am not a dentist, but have been part of the Indian dental fraternity for more than 3 years now through my role as a co-founder of Practo. Over the past three years I have met over 2000 dentists and visited over 1000 dental centers. Practo powers Practo.com, a doctor search engine and also makes Practo Ray, a simple online software for doctors. We started by targeting dentists but have since moved on to serve doctors from all speciality.

Just like the dentists I too am an entrepreneur, growing Practo from a two member team to a fifteen member team working out of three offices across India. Practo today is used in over 1500+ healthcare centers, by 10,000+ doctors to serve over 1,000,000+ patients.

Enough of telling you why to take me seriously, now to the real deal.

Problem: Dentistry is marketed poorly

Issue 1: Limited market for the Dental talent base

Long ago, India along with its large population had a hand full of professionals like engineers, doctors, lawyers and those who were good had their hands full with projects, patients, clients respectively. But in the past 10 years, Indian educational sector has been growing rapidly with new colleges, more degrees, more options and is graduating lakhs of engineers, thousands of doctors and lawyers. With this influx of Lakhs of graduates in the market, there is bound to be some changes in the market.

The engineers luckily had their degrees recognized outside and could go out for higher education and those degrees procured outside are recognized in India. This allowed them to provide their services on a worldwide basis hence we have them working on foriegn projects and for foreign companies.

Dentists have not been as lucky, their Indian degrees are not recognized in developed countries like USA, Singapore, etc. This means that their education and services be rendered only in india, limiting their market.

Hence for a sustainable business the dentists must be educated and make more patients aware about the dental treatments and its benefits. Without this they will only be targeting the same base of patients, which will not be sufficient for rapid growth of the dental community.

Generating awareness is marketing.

Issue 2: Common myth – Patients think Dentistry is costly & optional

I asked my friend, “How much do you think is the cost of a root canal treatment?”
Ans : 1 lakh
How much do you think it costs to do scaling?
Ans : Whats that?

Even after spending so many years in the dental industry, I am still not clear about the most basic services provided by dentists and their costs. This is bad. Only ideas which spread, win (Seth Godin). Dentists tend to confuse their patients with technical words and keep their patients in the dark with variable pricing and much more.

This confusion leads to negative marketing or myths about dentistry, such as :
– Dentistry is expensive,
– Dentistry is optional,
– Dentists overcharge,
Hence can’t trust dentists. These are the perceptions about dentists among patients and this is a major turn off for patients.

How do you remove the myths ?
– Be trasparent about your pricing, put it on paper
– Tell the patients the choices they have clearly, give them printed treatment plans
– Strictly, no variable pricing. Charge all patients the same for the same treatment
– Give a discount to the poorest patients but nothing more
– Talk to the patients with scenarios such as –

“Getting your teeth Cleaned by your dentist for 500 INR every year saves you 30,000 INR worth of dental treatment over the next 10 years.” or “Also makes your smile alot more bearable :)”

When one sees clean teeth it encourages them to have the same, it promotes dentistry. It’s bad to see most of the dentists themselves having bad sets of teeth. This too is marketing.

Marketing is done to eliminate myths surrounding dental treatments and to change the perception among patients.

Issue 3: Having a website is NOT marketing

Usually dentists get their websites built and they consider this a part of their marketing. They feel this adds credibility to their practice. They feel this can get them patients. Few of their friends have websites and they get International patients. For a few thousand rupees, they feel its worth the effort. They could not be more wrong.

This is how building a website takes a lot of time :
– Find a credible freelancer who is not part of your extended family : 1st Month
– Go through multiple sites and copy their designs & content for your site : 4th Month
– Half work done, freelancer goes away. Look for new designer : 6th Month
– Fed up, argue and reach a consensus with your designer for the final design : 9th Month
– Launch the website & tell your friends : 10th Month
– More feedback comes in, need more changes, bored, tired, fedup, giveup : 12th Month

This happens for all websites with a budget between 3000 INR to 10 000 INR. If you really want a good website, be ready to commit time and money appropriately. I would strictly advise doctors to reconsider their wish to have a website unless they are ready to surge a minimum of 50,000 INR to build a website and another 20,000 INR every year to maintain and promote it. If not, would advise you not to do it.

Spending money, time, effort into a website for marketing is a waste of time, unless considerable money & time is invested.

Summary
– Dentistry has been subjected to more negative marketing than positive
– Dentists have made it worse by concealing prices and charging variable prices
– Speak in the patients common language. Don’t use the word technical words like scaling
– Marketing means your customers talking about you to others
– Don’t consider having a website as means for marketing

Do you think this is an accurate analysis or I am mistaken? Please leave your comments below. Thanks!