Painless healthcare marketing from the dentist’s chair

A friend’s son faced what for many kids is almost like a dental rite of passage for teenagers: Braces.

Many of us weathered that ordeal, back in the day when braces gave a smile that looked for all the world like the grill of a ’59 Buick.

The memories are vivid: Elevator music from the speakers, a bland room that had a certain communist Bulgaria feel to it, drab brown and gray, metal and pain, lots of pain. Not to mention that before we even hit the orthodontist’s chair, there was the waiting room. Like expatriates in the movie Casablanca, it’s wait, and wait, and wait.

But the kid in this story had a different tale to tell. Instead of waiting in the waiting room, he was taken straight to the treatment room, where five dental stations were set up, filled with kids getting their treatments, including braces.

The first stop was a tour of the clinic, where staff answered the patient’s questions.

The next was a sink. In a nearby basket, wrapped in plastic were toothbrushes, their bristles covered with an invisible toothpaste. Each kid unwraps the magic tool, brushes his teeth, and tosses the used brush in the trash can.

“That was cool,” the teen said. That’s about as much enthusiasm as you’ll get from a 15-year-old anytime, but especially in dealing with dental matters.

The staff chatted with the teenager, about school, football, the World Series, the same stuff he chatted about with his pals in the cafeteria. Pop music from this decade rocked gently from the speakers.

When all was said and done, the teen was equipped with his new orthodontia. Some metal, some invisible, the new mouth gear still caused pain, and there would be a diet of soup and mac and cheese – soft stuff – for the next few days.

While dentists are much more hip these days in helping patients feel more relaxed, some things don’t change. Pain and braces are paired together like pepperoni and pizza.

The lesson here is that health professionals – doctors, dentists, hospitals, etc., — can make the patient experience more positive by making them feel comfortable and cared for.

Part of that is making the patient feel he or she is part of a team.

For example, one Mobile, Ala., dentist hands out green T-shirts to kids who have their wisdom teeth removed. “I Lost My Smart Mouth,” reads the shirt. A picture of the smiling patient in the shirt is posted on the practice’s Facebook page. A simple, witty shirt makes a tough experience bearable, and even fun.

Imagine your hospital handing out onesies for newborns or T-shirts for other patients, for example, reading “Team Community Hospital.” It’s a cool marketing tool that helps patients and their families feel not so alone.

One Mississippi hospital treats newborn parents to a steak dinner, complete with a rose for the new Mom and sparkling cider.

It’s our mantra when it comes to health care. If it’s good for the patient, it’s good for your practice.

The kid with the new braces, who down the road will have a sparkling new smile, learned that lesson first hand.


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