Airway dentistry is the fastest growing field in dentistry today. One of the keys to building and sustaining a successful airway practice is to create a steady stream of new patients seeking care. To do that, the practice needs to develop multiple channels of patient recruitment.
There are three types of patients that can be recruited into an airway practice. Each type of patient requires a different type of marketing and careful attention must be paid to ensure the right messaging is reaching the right patient type through the right channels.
The three types of patients include:
Existing patients – These are patients that have a pre-existing relationship with the practice. Typically, they will have been hygiene patients within the practice or have been in as a patient for restorative dentistry. There is mounting evidence that tooth grinding may be associated with airway challenges, so a practice with a heavy restorative focus may be well suited to build a successful airway practice.
The best option to connect with existing patients is during chair time. An easy screening tool like the Stop Bang screener (Found here) can help to identify current patients who may be at high risk of having sleep apnea or otherwise benefitting from airway therapy.
Unfortunately, most patients are only in the chair once every six months, which means that if a practice is only focused on using face-to-face interactions to drive current patients into airway consultations, practice growth will be stunted. To overcome that challenge, it is imperative to utilize email newsletters and targeted email campaigns to spread the word and increase interest in scheduling an appointment to explore potential sleep apnea treatments.
Common email campaigns focus on patient case studies, education on treatment options, and general awareness campaigns on the risks of airway challenges. Using an email system, a practice can automate much of the work required to successfully execute on these campaigns.
Active seekers – These are prospective patients who are aware of their need for a solution to sleep apnea / sleep-disordered breathing / snoring. They may or may not have been officially diagnosed with sleep apnea and may be using a CPAP or oral appliances and are defined by the fact that they are looking for a solution to their airway issue.
Referral patients are generally considered active seekers, since they have made the decision to find treatment for a condition from which they suffer. The other source of active seekers are the search engines, like Google and Bing.
For a practice starting into digital marketing, search engine marketing is the most obvious first step. Patients searching for airway-related keywords are doing so from an interest in finding a solution to a problem they, or a loved one, are experiencing. If a practice competes effectively on the search engines, it is possible to draw a healthy percentage of those prospective patients seeking care to their practice instead of having them move to another. These individuals tend to be farther down the decision-making journey than patients identified through other sources and can represent a fruitful source of new patient starts.
There are two ways to engage in search engine marketing. The first is pay-per-click (PPC) advertising – paying the search engines for the opportunity to advertise for certain keywords. PPC advertising is an auction, so multiple parties are competing for placement for those keywords. When performed well, PPC advertising is an incredibly effective way to connect with new patients. When performed poorly, it can result in a lot of wasted money. Proper bid strategies will ensure the results the practice is looking for.
The second way to compete on the search engines is through a process called search engine optimization. This entails tailoring the practice’s website towards targeted keywords so that the site will rank highly organically (without paying for advertising). This process is time-intensive and takes months or years to yield results but is incredibly impactful once the site ranks highly.
Engageable Afflicted – With the prevalence of sleep apnea estimated to be greater than 6% of the US population (some estimate it to be greater than 40% of adults, but that is debatable), there is a very large population of prospective patients who have a compromised airway, but are not seeking a solution for that issue. This is the largest percentage of patients in most airway practices.
The most prevalent way to connect with the Engageable Afflicted in today’s world is through social media marketing, especially on Facebook. Facebook’s ubiquity ensures that properly designed advertising strategies on its platform will reach prospective airway patients.
One of the key benefits of Facebook advertising for airway is that allows a practice to reach out proactively to targeted audiences (as opposed to needing to wait for someone to search a keyword on Google) and it allows practices to retarget individuals – serving advertisements only to people who have previously performed a certain action, like watching a certain length of a video online or visiting a certain website.
Retargeting is an incredibly powerful tool. It allows practices to educate prospective patients over weeks, months, or years. As prospective patients interact with the office’s ads on Facebook, the number of people being educated and motivated increases, yielding a higher number of patients engaging with the practice over time.
Airway dentistry is virtually exploding right now. Over the next decade, it will become more and more mainstream. The practices who will be the go-to sources for airway treatment are those who can establish a brand and a track record of success now. By leveraging a series of marketing tools, both physical and digital, a practice can build its pipeline of interested, qualified patients into a growth engine for the practice.