**The Biggest Challenge Facing Dentistry**

Someone asked me what the biggest challenge facing dentistry is going to be in a post-covid world.

Simply put – the biggest challenge will come from within the profession.

It will be significant price discounting. I’ve written about this before.

I think the most susceptible areas will be medium SES because these areas already have a high concentration of dentists AND these populations will be most affected by the upcoming economic downturn.

What can you do?

1) Firstly, and this will sound cliche, you need to look at your costs! This is mega important. The biggest areas will be staffing costs, lab costs and to a smaller extent, materials costs including wastage.

Staffing costs need to be brought down with efficient rostering. You also need to examine if you are getting returns on your “comfort staffing”. Do you actually need six handed dentistry? The fulltime floater? Does your PM on $40 an hour really need to be fulltime (leaving aside the fact that that rate is exorbitant).

The effect of cost minimisation means that you can retain margins (profits), even with reduced volume (busy-ness), without having to cut fees. If you do cut fees (which I hope we try and resist), you will still be able to maintain margin.

2) Secondly, you need to look at productivity gains. Training staff, implementing technology and improving systems. The aim of everything you do in this regard needs to be to minimize staff time spent doing tasks, increasing automation AND ultimately delivering cost savings. One of the biggest reasons my staff costs are low despite paying above award wages is because my staff are efficient. They are trained in an extremely high volume environment and thus can perform tasks efficiently and to a high standard. I see this whenever our own staff or new staff who have come from quieter surgeries are first put in the environment of our busy surgeries. It take a while to adapt.

The biggest thing you can do to help with this if you don’t have the time to strategize yourself is to take away the mundane and easy tasks that you have your high level practice managers doing. Give that stuff away and give them time to just observe your operations and find ways to improve.

3) Thirdly, within five years, every general practice needs to be doing orthodontics and implants. It’s a must. If you aren’t doing it, get trained or recruit dentists that can. As the economy worsens, more and more general practices will be keeping procedures in house. The public will expect dentists to be a one shop stop as they look for convenience.

4) Seriously, forget this bullshit spruiked by practice management companies around the fact that “people still drive Mercedes” and other associated bullshit. Look, yes it’s true. People will still want premium. No doubt. But trust me, everyone I know who goes and buys a Mercedes bargains hard. Really hard. They want to keep as many dollars in their pocket as possible. No one walks into a Mercedes dealership and just pays the advertised price. Secondly, and more importantly, there are probably 1000 “shitty” cars on the road for every Mercedes. Practice management companies make their money from having everyone believe they are (or can be) the Mercedes of the world. That they can charge premium prices for their services. This is difficult to execute at the best of times and will be almost impossible to execute at any sort of scale (beyond one-two chairs) in a depressed economy. Especially if you are seeking growth.

People also tend to make the assumption that those offering services at a lower cost must not be offering great customer service. So they think that if you offer great service you can charge more. Service is becoming less and less of a differentiator. (Almost) Every idiot knows you need to be customer centric with friendly staff. Don’t make the assumption that just because you have friendly staff and great service, you can charge more.

The better strategy is to examine what the consumer wants and give it to them. They want convenience and value.

There is this whole piece around how dentistry is not a product, it’s a service, blah blah blah. Whatever. That’s what you and I believe (hope). Trust me, that’s not what the average consumer thinks. When I goto the physio, if I haven’t been given a recommendation, I’ll just call the closest one and go there. I don’t know if they are good or not. If they fix my problem and are nice to me, I’ll go there next time I need one. That’s how patients think.

When 65% of the population is not coming to the dentist (for whatever reason), they don’t value oral health anyway. Sure we may be able to show them what’s needed and educate them when they do come in, but for us to assume that the population does not just view us the same as they view products, is a stretch imho.

What is the entire reason Smile Direct Club has become a billion dollar company overnight? It’s because the founders understood what most of our profession doesn’t. Patients do not think we are a service. They generally look at us, the same as they do a product..

So what can you do about this? Deliver convenience – Look at your opening hours, look at appointment availability especially for emergencies, look at your marketing efforts, look at your PAYMENT OPTIONS, look at your visibility and signage and examine your actual treatments – are you doing what the consumer wants or are you doing what you think is best in any given case?

And please, if you have a one or two chair practice and have been in business for 20 years and are booked out 48 weeks in advance, ignore all of the above.