by Mark Hartley, Editor, RDH magazine
The masters of dental spin
There’s advertising. Then there’s spin. In regard to the former, you’re the best judge of it. Dental manufacturers invest heavily in delivering marketing messages via print and digital ads. Which advertising campaigns catch your eye? The bottom line is that the products your colleagues use on a daily basis improve the quality of patient care, but it’s the advertising that starts you on that path.
Then there’s spin. Many of us think of spin in negative terms. We often frown as we think of politicians who spin a message of whatever a partisan audience wants to hear. But spin can also be brought about in a positive way, delivering marketing messages in ways that are subtler, often through the media. And that’s something we know about.
On New Year’s Eve, Kevin Henry, my compadre over at Dental Economics, and I devised a method of comparing restorative spin vs. hygiene spin, and later, Kristine Hodsdon of RDH eVillage weighed in too.
We offer our rankings below for the manufacturers who are the best at putting the spin on information about their products and how they can be used in dental care. They may solicit articles from authors in the profession, distribute informative press releases or digital media, or otherwise actively collaborate with dental professionals through methods that cannot be categorized as direct advertising. In addition, many manufacturers effectively use social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to deliver information in untraditional ways.
(Again, these rankings are not based on the volume of advertising a company does. As editors, we’re not sure if we can accurately calculate that, even though we would probably be good at guessing. But we are curious about which advertising messages strike a chord with you. Please let us know what you think about your favorite advertisers by filing a comment at the bottom of this “spin” ranking.)
The masters of dental spin
1. 3M ESPE — No one is better at listening for, and collecting, opinions from dental professionals than 3M. They host “think tanks” for key opinion leaders, but the search for insights about challenges in dental occupations does not stop there. They explain everything about their products and related procedures to the nth degree. The Minnesota company, of course, doesn’t produce products for all dental categories. But if you can’t find information related to something they produce, tell them. Then give it a week or two, and the information will be everywhere. 3M ESPE also flexes its mighty muscles in digital communication too.
2. Hu-Friedy — The Chicago instrument manufacturer is generally consistent with its public relations. But Hu-Friedy is exceptional with professional education and social media. The latter, in particular, involves the ongoing development of Friends of Hu-Friedy. In addition, Hu-Friedy is also starting to ramp up its green initiative and is working hard to get the word out there about it.
3. Philips — Like Hu-Friedy, Philips’ professional educators are omnipresent, and not just about tooth brushing. The educators broaden their scope to address all aspects of health care. Like 3M ESPE, Philips Sonicare invests heavily in public relations by hiring topnotch external agencies to direct most of it. It’s hard to find a presenter who can’t explain biofilms, right? Thank Philips for that.
4. Patterson — The highest dealer in this ranking of spin, Patterson also works with a talented PR agency to quickly spread information about new products and initiatives on everything from EagleSoft to CAESY. I give nonstop kudos to Patterson’s efforts to educate dental hygienists about innovative dental technology.
5. CareCredit — When you talk about a presence with key opinion leaders, CareCredit always comes to mind. Endorsed by almost every state dental association, the patient financing company has worked overtime to become part of the treatment package produced by every dental office. Yes, there’s an ulterior motive, but never underestimate how helpful CareCredit has been to the dental profession through its sponsorship of various programs. In addition, CareCredit must be acknowledged for its recognition of the role of the hygienist in case presentation. Hygienists are often the first to hear, “Oh, I can’t afford that.”
6. Ultradent — The company founder is a dentist, but he must have a soft spot for dental hygiene. The company’s aggressive public relations machine never forgets to include dental hygiene. Kevin Henry, Dental Economics' managing editor, adds, “Ultradent is a PR machine with a love for the key opinion leader. It’s a combination that works well for the Utah company.”
7. Dexis — This Illinois producer of diagnostic equipment gets the word out to the dentist, hygienist, and assistant through a solid PR platform. The company also has several authors and speakers who help spread the information about the increasingly complicated subject of how all this technology works. I also like the fact that it’s a former dental hygienist who generates most of the information initiated.
8. OraPharma — Pharmaceutical companies are heavily regulated in regard to the dissemination of information. OraPharma plays by the rules, but the company remains very supportive in the education of all dental professionals, particularly those with an interest in periodontics.
9. (tie) GlaxoSmithKline — GSK has changed marketing strategies and key personnel a few times in recent years, which is probably what keeps them from being at the very top. A British company with a very well developed American presence, GSK invests heavily in public relations that is top notch in its coordination. GSK and PR may be acronyms, but they’re synonymous in many ways. When a new product is introduced, we know about it almost immediately, as do dentistry’s key opinion leaders.
9. (tie) Sunstar Americas — The American division of the Japanese corporation is very aggressive with press releases, professional education, and honoring excellence in the profession and research (including RDH magazine’s Award of Distinction). Kevin Henry added, “I don’t know of a company who does a better job engaging the hygienist than Sunstar.” Sunstar, though, needs to more vigorously join the Internet public relations fray that so many other dental companies have entered.
11. Ivoclar — Kevin Henry noted, “Ivoclar has a PR person who does a very good job of getting the company’s message out, whether I’m sitting at my desk in Tulsa or attending a show in Cologne, Germany. The message is consistent, clear, and concise to not only me, but to key opinion leaders as well.” I also want to acknowledge that Ivoclar does a good job with its educational programs about laser usage by dental hygienists.
12. SybronEndo — SybronEndo holds roundtables for key opinion leaders and uses a network of authors and speakers to help explain its endodontic product line. Kevin Henry points out, “All endo companies have certain authors who will write for them, but SybronEndo seems to do the best job of maximizing its key opinion leaders.”
13. (tie) Procter & Gamble/Crest — Actually, I had both of the two major U.S. toothpaste manufacturers ranked higher. Both Colgate and P&G invest heavily in public relations for professionals and consumers. But I guess they need to, uh, work a little harder to make prevention a bigger part of dentists’ message too. Needless to point out, the Crest and Oral-B brands undertake a number of valuable public relations initiatives for dental hygienists.
13. (tie) Dentsply — All of the Dentsply divisions do a very good job of ensuring that dental professionals access necessary information on their products and related procedures. The prevention-oriented professional division, though, used to have a much stronger education outreach than it does currently.
15. Paradise Dental Technologies — PDT’s inclusion on this ranking surprised and pleased me. I just figured the lack of interest by the restorative-minded votes would cancel out my vote. But in recent years PDT has very quietly started to match Hu-Friedy (see No. 2) in making information available to dental professionals. Kevin Henry adds, “PDT has entered the social media spectrum and the company is looking to expand its viral reach more and more. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if PDT is ranked higher if we do this study again in a year.”
Laugh of the week
Movieline.com lamented ABC’s addition of another reality show by writing, “What’s that? You haven’t seen enough of those emotionally unstable Bachelor contestants — the ones who weep openly about their unfulfilled dream of becoming a dental hygienist after their third glass of Chardonnay.”
Unfulfilled, eh? Well, at least I know the wine preference of hygienist wannabes. Still working on the preferences of those who have fulfilled their dreams. (I seldom drink the stuff and lack the expertise of what to order for a hygienist.)
An esoteric conversation, but, hey, at least I read the article
Dr. Jason Hwang co-wrote an article for The Atlantic in October 2009 titled, “Power to the Patients.” The authors advocate “disruptive innovation” as a concept that leads to patient empowerment. They argue that a paternalistic health-care system prevents consumers from participating in their own health care strategies.
Two areas in particular were addressed in The Atlantic article. First, Dr. Hwang and co-author Clayton Christensen recommended that, “patients become more involved in the management of their own medical records. Health records have long been considered holy scripture — to be modified and interpreted by nobody less than a health-care professional.”
Secondly, health-care professionals should become more involved in online communities that serve as a forum for victims of a disease process. Professionals can issue “correctives: for health misinformation. The specific example discussed was the effective methods diabetics use for networking together.”
Dr. Hwang, who is an internal medicine physician and the executive director of health care at Innosight Institute, was kind enough to participate in the following interview. To read The Atlantic article, click here.
Hartley: Dr. Hwang, you advocate patient empowerment. As an example, you cite the positive networking that occurs in online communities for diabetics. Diabetes is an incurable disease that can be managed. Periodontal disease is also incurable, and can be managed. But isn’t it a stretch to say an online community for periodontal disease would interact the same as one for diabetics? Isn’t there some general truth that the more dire the disease the more likely patients would seek to become empowered? How do you envision healthy to moderately healthy patients taking control of their health’s destiny?
Dr. Hwang: The success of online communities, which are part of a broader category of business models we’ve called “facilitated networks” in health care, really depends upon the condition that is bringing patients together. In our research, we recognized that the category of diseases we’ve historically labeled as “chronic” is not a homogeneous group, but should be further parsed out in order to deploy business models that truly address the needs of patients. In short, what we found is that online communities work best when applied to diseases that require extensive behavioral change and where there is already a motivation to adhere to therapy — for example, diseases in which the symptoms and complications are readily perceptible. Because the prevention of periodontal disease does not have immediate, tangible results to the patient, it is unlikely that online communities, much less the imploring of the dentist and dental hygienist, will do much to induce desired behavior. On the other hand, something simple and low-cost that converts the disease into something visible and actionable, such as a toothpaste or mouth rinse that highlights plaque — until brushed off — would work better. Glucose meters affect diabetics in much the same way. The goal in both diseases is the same — shift more control to motivated patients in order to prevent downstream consequences of poorly-managed disease.
Hartley: How do you see the concept of disruptive innovation as improving the collaboration between the medical and dental communities, particularly as evidence points to at least some relationship between the two professions in overall systemic health?
Dr. Hwang: Given the overlap in purpose of their respective preventive care services, there is likely to be convergence between primary care medicine and preventive dental services. The disruptive innovation model allows us to predict that the most likely nexus of this convergence will be a practitioner that is seeking to expand her services (in volume and profit), rather than a practitioner that will have to contract her business. This means that the first providers to offer a mixture of medical and dental prevention will probably not be dentists or physicians, but rather dental hygienists and nurse practitioners.
Hartley: Often, the dental community will have access to a consumer’s online plea for needed dental treatment. It is somewhat evident that the consumer was negligent in preventive dental care. I sense reluctance on the part of dental professionals to get involved with someone who is paying the consequences for lack of oral care. You advocate that health professionals should enter community forums and provide “correctives” for health misinformation. Isn’t there a professional risk to this type of intercession, particularly from a legal standpoint?
Dr. Hwang: It is true there are hurdles to becoming involved with patient care outside of the office — particularly where conversations are documented poorly or not at all, where individuals are largely anonymous, and where there is no financial benefit for doing so. However, the fact remains there is a business need that presents a golden opportunity for health professionals to enter a new avenue of care delivery. Legal protections can be expanded, and a method of paying for these services can be determined. It will take some effort, but the alternative is that these conversations and interactions go on regardless, without the input of health professionals, and we will all be worse off in the end.
Letter of the week
The newspaper for Paris, Tenn. (The Paris Post-Intelligencer) recently posted this letter to the editor:
"For 19 years now, I’ve always had one dentist, Dr. Garry Grimes. As long as Dr. Grimes has been my dentist, Ms. Betsy Barcroft has been my dental hygienist. This [past] week, I lost a lovely lady who cleaned my teeth for as long as I can remember. She watched me grow up from the little girl with her two front teeth missing to the college freshman I am today, and I can only hope that I made her proud. She was a sweet, wonderful, and kind-hearted lady that will be missed very much by her family, friends, and patients. She will always be a part of me, and I will always remember her and how she influenced my life."
Such a nice letter, and I hope all of you receive similar testimonials when the time comes to move on.