March 2020
Volume 41, Issue 3

Innovative Business Models Changing the Ways of Dental Practice

Jacob Drucker, BEcon, MStat

As new technologies gain widespread use, dentistry is witnessing dramatic practice changes. Advances such as Internet-based purchasing and artificial intelligence have birthed entirely new business models with direct dental office applications. Innovative concepts are revolutionizing the dental office experience, streamlining back-office workflow, and enabling the rise of direct-to-consumer companies.

Innovating the dental office experience- The dental office is undergoing the beginnings of several foundational shifts. In fact, no longer is a dental office necessarily an office at all. For example, HENRY the Dentist is a company that sends mobile dental units to various corporate locations, enabling employers to let their employees conveniently receive treatment. One hour out of the office, and patients are back to work. This innovative model is cropping up in other healthcare fields as well, notably optometry.

Virtudent has taken this model even further. The Massachusetts-based company sends out mobile units of hygienists for 45-minute cleanings and examinations, including any necessary x-rays and intraoral photographs. The documentation is then sent to a remote dentist who reviews it and follows up with each patient virtually via an online portal. Any further work needed is then referred to a local brick-and-mortar practitioner.

Even the dentist's experience is being challenged by creative businesses. Denti.AI, a relative newcomer to the dental space, utilizes artificial intelligence to read and diagnose patient x-ray images. This has the potential to not only serve as an objective in-house second opinion, but save dentists hundreds of hours per year. Moreover, because the foundational technology is based on artificial intelligence, Denti.AI gets smarter with each additional patient x-ray.

Changing the back office- Dental offices are also seeing the emergence of new back-office solutions to help with supply purchasing and patient communication. On the supply purchasing front, the rise of online shopping has created opportunities for more efficient and inexpensive procurement. Online marketplaces such as Supply Clinic are emblematic of these types of opportunity. Supply Clinic is not a distributor, but rather it brings together more than 100 distributors and manufacturers looking to reach dental offices. These companies compete with each other, enabling dentists to compare prices and save money on supplies. Also, this marketplace is able to leverage technologies and industry expertise to keep gray market goods off the site.

Other office tasks are similarly benefiting from the rise of innovative tools. Patient Prism® helps track and analyze phone call patterns to convert more callers into patients. The software, which also leverages artificial intelligence, identifies why calls fail to yield new patients, giving offices the information they need to take immediate action to win back lost business.

Direct-to-consumer companies- The dental field is also experiencing the proliferation of yet another nontraditional business model: direct-to-consumer (D2C) oral care products. In recent years a flurry of electric toothbrushes, including Quip, Burst, and Goby, have been introduced that bypass the dentist-distributor model of selling through local dentists. What is most interesting about the rise of D2C companies in the dental space is how they grow and evolve.

Some of these companies are combining previously unrelated businesses under one brand name. Quip, for instance, sells both toothbrushes and toothpaste. Burst has added whitening strips to its product line. Another company, Beam Dental, has grown from being an electric toothbrush option that tracked and gamified daily use to a dental insurance company that offers refill heads, floss, and toothpaste every 6 months. Beam can track toothbrush usage and adjust insurance rates based on the information collected, rewarding customers with good oral hygiene practices by lowering rates. Quip recently followed suit and announced a similar move, unveiling an insurance alternative called quipcare.

Clear aligner treatment is also becoming D2C to some extent. Several clear aligner companies competing with Invisalign® have gotten patients more independently involved in the treatment process. Smile Direct Club and Candid Co. allow patients to take dental impressions themselves, or they may have their mouths digitally scanned at a company location. Both companies ensure that dentists are involved in treatment planning and approval. This is a further example of the changing dynamic between brick-and-mortar dentists and patients.

Like the field of healthcare more broadly, dentistry is witnessing a paradigm shift across many of its traditional business practices, impacting the patient experience, back-office workflow, and even the manufacturer-patient relationship. New, technology-driven business models are upending industry norms and affecting the dental experience well beyond treatment modalities.

About the Author

Jacob Drucker, BEcon, MStat
Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, Supply Clinic (supplyclinic.com), Chicago, Illinois

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