I Will Do It After Heartworm Season –  A business case for dental radiology

After 33 years in this business, sales patterns emerge, and every year they are usually the same. As a salesman and a company owner, my job is to sell products to my customers that will benefit their practice and make them money. It seems my customer’s job to put up objections to my sales approach and ultimately, procrastinate a decision, until, well, after heartworm season (or after the OVMA, or after the summer slowdown, kids go back to school, Christmas, the economy improves, you fill in the blanks).Let’s talk about heartworm season in the provinces that have it.  Heartworm is a preventative medicine and can be discussed at any time of the year. However, in spring and early summer, those pesky mosquitoes appear and threaten our dog’s health. Veterinarians see this as an opportunity to get those procrastinating customers to come in for some preventative medicine, and other medical attention that has been missed over the winter months.  Revenues rise during May and June and extra cash flow is available to invest in new technology.

Dental radiology is no longer an option in a veterinary practice. It is a necessity to diagnose any dental pathology.  Regardless if you use analog (film) or digital (CR or DR), you need it. So why do so many practices still not do dental radiology? The objections are many. Some practice owners hate doing dental work, object at the cost, do not understand the technology, and may other reasons. I would like to talk about  timing and execution today.

In business, timing is everything. Getting a new technology (or new to your practice) in front of an audience is everything in making a new investment profitable. The majority of practice owners, every year, procrastinate  implementing dental radiology into their practices before spring, because things are slow during winter, cash flow is slow, and heartworm season is coming up and they will be busy, so they say let’s talk then. Every year heartworm season comes and goes and decisions are rarely made before, during or after the season. Ditto for the OVMA conference, summer slowdown, etc…) What is fundamentally wrong with this equation? The customer failed to present a new technology to their clients when there was an abundant audience standing right before them!

New technology needs to be implemented BEFORE a practice enters a busy time. Retention of training is much better, and staff have some time to practice using the equipment, receive outside training (positioning training for instance) before they get really busy again. Heartworm season is something veterinarians use as a marketing concept to increase business, not a true season. Better business planning can take the “spike” out of this time period, and distress on the entire staff. I know many practice owners that preach the heartworm word all year around and are rewarded with steady cash flow, and a ton less stress in spring and early summer.

The spike in business is coming. It always does. How are you going to respond? Statistics say that 90% of all pets presented to a veterinarian require dental care and 66% need urgent dental care. 100% of the veterinarians I talk to are complaining that they need more profitable business opportunities.

If you already have a dental x-ray system now, listen with one ear. If you do not have one, listen with two ears.  Most veterinarians do not like to sell services to clients. They are clinical in nature, and compassionate to animals. This is one of the major reasons why veterinarians get nervous about buying new technology. They know revenue needs to be generated and feel awkward about “selling” it to clients. The answer is, drop the rope and do not sell anything. Simply present clinical information, and let the client do the “buying.” Below are two scenarios:

Scenario #1-you have a dental x-ray machine now

Many practices  follow a protocol of reactive dental procedures. A dog or cat has tarter, lesions, a grey tooth, etc..  They recommend a cleaning or dental radiograph, they prepare an estimate, and present to the client. The client gasps at the costs, and rarely comply. In up to 70% of the cases, the client leaves without treatment. Why? You have not been able to visually show them the problem, and they do not see the value in what you are recommending . If you could just get them to spend the money on the dental radiographs, they could see that there is an apical abscess, bone loss, a fractured tooth, etc..

There is another approach that is very effective. Don’t charge for the radiographs. What? How will I recover my investment?  Remember, 90% of the pets presented to you need dental work, and it is usually apparent to the client. If you can convince them a general cleaning is required and can get permission to take a full mouth series of dental x-rays for free, you now have a huge business opportunity in front of you. You charge the cleaning fee and present your dental radiograph findings. Pets can’t tell us what is wrong with them but radiographs can. Approx. 60% of the time you will find urgent problems. If you have a digital system, you can e-mail the client an x-ray while the pet is still under anesthesia and get permission to do an extraction, or defer treatment until the client can sort out how to pay for the procedure. Essentially you have a database of material you can present to your client, and plan out treatment by priority and their cash flow.

Scenario # 2-you do not have a dental x-ray machine

Your experience will likely allow you to identify basic lesions, pulpal death, slab fractures, etc.., but you are left in a lurch when you have to visually show your client what the problem is. Let’s face it, the majority of clients think veterinary professionals overcharge for their services (not true). I recall years ago I kept having a persistent sharp pain that came and went in a particular tooth. What was my dentist’s response?  X-rays of course! He shot a film radiograph and it looked relatively normal except for a pinhead spot that he suspected was an apical abscess. The short story is I got a root canal and the pain was over. Without this diagnostic tool applied in a way that will assure compliance, you have no “teeth” in the dental business.

Would you go to a dentist who did not own a dental x-ray machine? Why are so many practices procrastinating buying this diagnostic tool that can benefit their practice and generate much needed revenue? I hope I have given some ideas that will help you in your decision making process. Contact me anytime for questions or comments on my blog.

Bob Simpson

Posted in Dental, Radiology.