National Smile Month is a great reminder of the importance of oral health – able to galvanise thousands of practitioners and organisations around the need to motivate every person we meet to take care of their teeth. We know this is as important as ever, with oral cancer on the rise and alarming rates of decay in our young.
But is the onus simply on you as a patient, to brush and see your dentist more often?
When we started Toothpick.com, now the UK’s largest book-a-dentist website, consumer experience in the industry was really poor. There was little to no information available online in order to help you make an informed choice, and little transparency around costs – in both the NHS and private sector. Finding and booking an appointment was difficult, and you did all the hard work of gathering the relevant information around prices, services and availability, often over the phone.
Many of these problems are still pervasive, even though there is increasing support for innovation. The NHS is still unable to meet the demands for their dental services effectively, resulting in thousands of would-be patients unable to find an NHS appointment near them. Strikingly, there is also significant waste in areas where available NHS appointments are not booked. This is a result of misallocation of resource, but also lack of real-time visibility for patients who are unable to get an overall view of where the available appointments are, a problem we’re addressing at Toothpick.
Developments in other industries
Meanwhile, in other industries, the following trends have developed and are now so engrained in our behaviour as consumers that we forget how briefly they have been around.
- Comparison sites
This category of web services has already developed immensely. Comparison websites seek to give you all the information you could possibly need ahead of a purchase or booking, with a focus on price comparison. They have played a large part in transforming whole industries, as retailers and service providers now deal with customers coming to them with far more pre-qualified information than ever before. Ultimately, we have seen that empowering consumers with choice leads to more competition, innovation and sector growth.
- Online booking and buying
We have become much more trusting in general when it comes to transacting online, and many of us now use services daily that we would have never thought of five years ago. Mobile banking, online booking for healthcare appointments and even voting online all display changes in our behaviours as consumers and increasing expectations on service providers to make themselves available to us online.
- Reviews and online reputation
Starting as a way of building trust when buying physical products online, reviews have grown to be a cornerstone of all other web services. We can now read reviews and book our next cleaner, handy man or hair dresser in a couple of minutes. Online reviews are both the chicken and egg of modern ecommerce and online booking. Increasingly consumers have started to expect the same for healthcare providers – something dentists and doctors have taken a while to get used to. Reviews are the modern version of word of mouth, and a key part of our decision making process.
- Mobiles and smartphones
Smartphones now power a substantial proportion of retail and service business. As screens gets bigger and better, and more and more services are available to us in our pocket, a mobile-friendly website or a mobile app it is a key requirement for a business to survive from here on out. Without it, a service provider is likely to be disregarded in our decision making process.
Innovation in Healthcare
There is significant innovation taking place in healthcare as well, although consumers are only just beginning to see the effects. Under the umbrella term of the ‘quantified self’, more and more of us are monitoring our daily physical activity or medical conditions using tracking devices linked to apps. It is a promising way of empowering you as a patient to know more, and be able to respond to, what is happening in your body, as well as making it easier for you have a meaningful on-going conversation with your doctor or dentist.
On that note, we’re also at last starting to see new ways of engaging with your doctor or dentist, such as Skype consultations and virtual GP practices, which should make the entire health service, as well as patients, breathe a sigh of relief.
Why should dentistry be any different?
In order for us to effectively encourage good oral health, and make it easy for you to find and see a dentist regularly, dentistry as a whole needs to evolve to meet the needs of the modern consumer.
In our vision, every single dental practice offers online booking for new and existing patients through a mobile-optimised website or third party service. Price and service information is published and up to date, for easy comparison. Every individual provider offers initial video consultations, and every service point has a multitude of reviews to help new patients make an informed decision based on a complete picture of dentists available. Patient records, dental health tracking and prescriptions are handled seamlessly through online platforms.
When we’re at this point, we believe we can build better trust and communication between patients and health providers, reduce the heavy burden on the NHS and A and E departments in England, and hopefully remove some barriers to entry for those who currently don’t see a dentist regularly. The onus is certainly on the individual to take care of their teeth – but we can help you along by offering a better, modern experience and better information in the industry.
Expect more from your dental care providers, and help us encourage those who are already adopting new and best practices in using digital tools. Also look out for Toothpick Awards that recognise these dental practices based on patient feedback. Only then can we enable the tens of millions of people in England who haven’t seen a dentist in the last two years to be 60 seconds away from booking an appointment.