April 25, 2020

How to Champion Dental Innovation in Uncertain Times

Deanne Gertner
The unprecedented changes to society in spring 2020 have impacted every industry, especially dentistry.

According to a recent interactive graphic by the New York Times, dentists, oral surgeons, dental assistants and dental hygienists rank as the most at-risk professions of contracting a disease due to their physical proximity and frequency of contact with others. As a result, dental health facilities have closed except for emergency services. 

Dental insurers may financially benefit from paying fewer claims in the short term, but their long-term health not to mention the health of the entire industry could be at risk if routine preventative care proves too risky for too long. Here’s what dental insurers can do now to help dentistry not just survive but thrive.

Encourage Innovation & Technology Adoption

In April 2020, the American Dental Association published the results of a nationwide poll. Of the respondents, less than 25 percent said they would “find innovative ways to expand [their] patient base” as opposed to almost 40-60 percent who said they’d “find innovative ways to lower [their] operating costs.” Almost half the respondents said that they would not be able to sustain their practice if the current lockdown remains in place through August 2020. Yet costs can only be slashed so much. Even with zero patient attrition, providers will have to work harder to find new patients.

Dental insurers can encourage providers to be more innovative as a whole. To start, insurers could cover teledentistry services and encourage providers to adopt these services if they haven’t already. Telemedicine visits are expected to top one billion by the end of 2020; dental providers and payers can’t afford to ignore this healthcare trend that is only likely to keep growing. Additionally, as consumer mindsets towards physical distancing persist even as governments begin to lift restrictions, providers may need to rethink their service delivery methods. Robots could provide routine cleanings. Smart toothbrushes could provide 3-D scans. Insurers could shift away from a typical fee-for-service model to one that rewards innovation, much like medical insurance has done with value-based care.

Champion Marketing

Dental insurers remain at the center of three key stakeholders: providers, brokers and members. As such, they have an incredible opportunity to not only leverage marketing but make it work for everyone. Insurers can be strategic with their marketing budgets with an eye on conversions, sales and returns in addition to long-term sustainability. In the absence of in-person care, insurers could heavily promote teledentistry to brokers and members through an integrated marketing campaign of email, paid media and direct mail. Such a campaign could promote the ease and convenience of teledentistry while raising awareness of it. Additionally, insurers could be encouraging good oral health habits through newsletters and social media even more than usual as processed foods have made a sharp comeback and personal hygiene habits have relaxed. Such messaging shows members insurers truly care about them, especially during times of uncertainty. Insurers can encourage those with dental emergencies to seek dental providers rather than seek treatment in emergency rooms or urgent care through a friendly text message or push notification. 

Brokers need help communicating the value of plans and oral health with easy-to-use materials created for a digital world. Insurers must also fight the “can’t use it, lose it” mentality as people strive to reduce expenses. Insurers can help brokers understand and overcome consumer objections and barriers with conversation guides and sales materials created for a digital-first world. Oral health can become synonymous with whole-person health. Consumers need to see dental health—and by extension dental insurance—as an essential not a luxury during an economic downturn. 

Communicating Plan Innovation

According to Deloitte, “In the future of health, health insurance companies likely will not exist as they do now.” Wellness organizations focused on social services, care coordination and smart device distribution and education will take the place of insurers. Visionary insurers understand the need to not just react to market changes but also anticipate them through innovative plan offerings and benefits. Additionally, they understand the importance of communicating these innovations to brokers, members and prospects to maximize usage and adoption. If an insurer provides free dental coverage to children, for example, they could develop an integrated campaign targeting young families. Or, if an insurer provides a free smart toothbrush to  those over 65, who may struggle more with proper dental care due to medication side effects or mobility issues, with every plan, they could marry paid digital media with a content plan aimed at lead generation. Whatever the innovation, communicating its benefits remain paramount.