The purpose of marketing for any type of activity, including private dental care, is to meet the needs and wishes of both the buyer and the patient.
Although the attitude and the behavior of the consumer may seem too commercial in the medical area – and particularly in dental medicine – the truth is that patients (although they have a disease) actually “buy” medical services.
Knowing the consumer’s (patient) behavior, we have information to improve our practice, to create new medical services, new products, new prices, new promotional messages or other marketing items.
In particular, the factors that influence the attitude of a consumer are:
1. Cultural factors
They exert the widest and most important influence on behavior. In the development and growing period, a set of values, perceptions, preferences and attitudes are acquired under the influence of the family or other institutions. In private dental care, there is a tendency to address particularly to the “educated population”, who is already consuming products and medical services.
In terms of marketing, the private clinics tend to concentrate resources on the market that is already interested in their services, rather than in the less-favored market area.
2. Social factors
People are influenced by the social groups existing within their culture, both the groups to which they belong (reference groups) and the ones they aspire to reach (aspiring groups).
The social factors that influence the attitude of the consumer are:
The reference group of a person is made up of all persons exercising a direct or indirect influence on him/her. Perhaps the most important reference group is the family. The importance of the family as a reference group is often observed when patients make decisions regarding more expensive dental treatments. The decision of restorations in the frontal area of dental arcades with porcelain veneers or common resin composite dental obturations, all dictated by aesthetic considerations, can be taken by a single person. On the contrary, accepting more special prosthetic dental works necessitates the involvement and agreement of the family or life partner. The same situation is encountered in the case of performing dental restorations on implants, especially when their number is large.
The decision on preventive pediatric dental medicine such as dental sealants procedure can only be taken by a parent, but a complex orthodontic treatment at a private clinic will probably require the approval of both parents.
Regarding the role and social status of a person, it must be said that they exert influence over the behavior of the consumer. People always choose products that communicate and express their status in society. Marketing specialists know the potential of a “social status symbol” of a brand or product. A patient with a high level of social and material wealth will require ceramic prosthetic restorations, even though, personally, it would not be affected by the non-physiognomic aspect of metal or partial physiognomic prosthetic works.
On the other hand, the choice made by a person with an important social role influences the members of the group – we refer here to the opinion, towards a particular product or service, of medical personalities, administrative authorities or publishers of renowned publications.
3. Personal factors
Consumer attitude is also influenced by personal characteristics, which are:
It is easy to see how the circumstances of life influence the needs of patients: before finding a partner, people are interested mostly in aesthetic dental care, then for young families the attention goes to preventive dentistry. The family with children is very interested in orthodontic treatments, and at retirement and older age, patients are very careful to keep as many teeth as possible on the dental arcades and to have dental comfort as a part of general body health status.
The mature, middle age consumer group is a very important group, because they generally have two times higher incomes than the under 35-year-old group.
Families with high level education jobs or professions are more interested in dental care, even though there will always be exceptions. Some doctors may consider that it is not ethical to treat patients differently. They want to offer the same type of treatment and medical services to all patients, regardless of the social class. The principle is true, but dentists who choose to socialize want to take into account the location of their private clinic. This is necessary to ensure easier access for patients of the social class they are targeting.
Among the most important influences we have reviewed, we must not in any way minimize the economic circumstances. They greatly affect the choice of services and products, especially in the economic situation in which Romania is today.
4. Psychological factors
The psychological factors that influence the attitude of a consumer are:
To some extent, we can influence psychological factors, such as when we publish some dental services through magazines and brochures. But most of the times, the minds and concepts of our buyers and patients are difficult to change. Marketing specialists believe that it is easier to implement a product or service appropriate for an existing attitude than to try to change the attitude of consumers.
After all, in this medical marketing review we can appreciate all the influences that interfere with the attitude of a consumer. The option a person makes is the result of a complex interaction of cultural, social, personal and psychological factors, many of whom cannot be influenced by us, those who offer dental medicine care, services and products.
Having this in mind, let’s try to redefine our dental practice from the perspective of marketing principles. Private assistance should be centered on patient care, as a keyword quality. In quality medical services, all aspects of the patient are confronted, starting from the first telephone to the clinic and up to the long-term monitoring and preventive care. Patients prefer to buy services from doctors who, by exercising their profession, are more likely to help patients than themselves. Or at least, they give that impression.
The new mentality we need to have – that of being “centered” on patients – means that we need to look at the whole activity from the patient’s point of view, especially because dental treatment is just one of the options from medical field in which they can spend their income. And we must not forget the competition, too.
As doctors in dental private practice, we have a long way to go before accepting to define our profession as a “service provider”. We are all accustomed to thinking that we, as dentists, should not try to convince patients to “buy” our medical services and products, since they clearly need them. But regardless of whether we are paid by the patient himself, by the state or by an insurance company, they are all clients and that is why a philosophy of marketing is imposed in our practice. We will encourage patients to reach a better oral health level for themselves and their families by purchasing our services.
Acknowledgements: All the authors have equal contributions for this article.
Conflict of interests: The authors declare no conflict of interests.