In 2016, Dr Beng So acquired a small practice in Grovedale, a suburb of Geelong. Initially part of a medical centre, Dr So secured an adjacent site in 2019 and commenced construction of a new, four-chair practice amid the pandemic.
While Dr So describes opening the new practice during the lockdown as an uncertain time, operations have normalised, and the practice has returned to full capacity. From here, Dr So intends to capitalise on the positive growth momentum.
Capturing and increasing demand
Geelong Family Dental Care offers various services, including general dentistry, orthodontics, and implants. Dr So says the practice was far busier than expected during the pandemic due to specialising in two in-demand areas.
“The first is wisdom teeth removal with patients needing those wisdom teeth extracted amid hospital shutdowns,” Dr So says. “With more people grinding and cracking teeth during COVID, we also saw more people with Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) or jaw problems than usual.”
While offering these services in-house helped the practice grow during the pandemic, Dr So says that digital marketing is an effective tool for extending awareness and demand.
“Marketing is crucial for any business targeting growth, so we invest in digital marketing. We use search engine optimisation and write articles to educate patients about the services our practice offers that others don’t.”
“Not everyone knows we manage jaw problems or wisdom teeth, so this content helps people confirm its availability even if they’ve already heard it from friends.”
The benefits of cost efficiency
Dr So agrees that while the practice is growing, there are challenges to address. This includes staff shortages and escalating recruitment costs. One strategy that Dr So employs is bringing on more trainees and bolstering internal learning and development programs.
“We now look for people with the right mindset, not just experience,” Dr So says. “With a strong professional development system, training takes care of itself and sustains even if someone leaves”.
According to Dr So, this approach has reduced staff-related costs, a preferred option to matching or exceeding sharply elevated remuneration packages. “We don’t want to add to the inflationary and margin pressures by paying extremely high rates to recruit staff,” Dr So says.
Dr So is careful to avoid passing on higher operating costs to patients, saying that “if we can manage our costs down rather than increase prices, we can reduce the risk of losing patients”.
In pursuit of productivity
Driving efficiencies and productivity across the practice is also high on the agenda for Geelong Family Dental Care, and Dr So is taking proactive steps to improve workflows and harness technology to save time.
“Once you have people training how you want them to work, you can streamline the workflow,” Dr So says. “For example, reducing the time it takes for a procedure, and those efficiencies drive costs down.”
“We are also investing in technology to gain efficiencies. We have invested in digital scanners and 3D printers where you can make everything on-site rather than relying on external labs.”
Dr So says automating processes, particularly when engaging with patients, can help save time and costs. “We’re investing in software that helps automate the recall process, booking reminders and other interactions,” Dr So says.
Enhancing customer service
While booking systems are an essential part of the patient experience, Dr So also prioritises other aspects of customer service in the clinic and online.
“We designed the new practice so it didn’t look, feel or smell like a dental clinic,” Dr So explains. “We want people to feel welcome and offer a café-style environment with no tooth-related materials in the waiting room. This helps alleviate patient anxiety.”
“The digital experience must also match the physical experience, especially for our younger patients. Among other things, being able to make bookings out of hours in an emergency and completing our online COVID checklist helps give patients peace of mind.”
According to Dr So, the benefit of a better experience is more word-of-mouth referrals. Dr So says that peer recommendations reduce, but not eliminate, the practice’s reliance on digital marketing to drive patient demand.
“We never rest on our laurels, and yes, we might be busy, but we want to make sure we’re proactively engaging with patients and that the service and quality of care remain consistently high.”