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When Patients Become Consumers

Over the past several years, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in dental patients, which I call “consumerization.”

I love a well-educated patient in my chair.  I do not love a savvy consumer in my chair.  Let me explain the difference.

Well-educated patients are thoughtful about their care.  They may ask questions, they may be anxious, and they may come from diverse socio-economic backgrounds.  But what they have in common is respect for the dentist-patient relationship.  They trust their dentist.  They honor clinical skill.  They appreciate the materials and craftsmanship of the laboratory.

Savvy consumers are not thoughtful about their care.  Their questions and anxieties have a common, poisonous undertone: they view our services as commodities.  Commodities are interchangeable and can be bargain-shopped.  There is little or no respect for the dentist-patient relationship.  No trust, no honor, no appreciation… just dollars and cents.

Consumerization has been in place long before the economic downturn.  The poor economy has accelerated this trend, but it did not cause it.  Consumerization occurs because of poor information on websites and unprofessional advertisements.  Some of our fellow dentists proclaim discounts over quality.  Online dental forums, not always operated by dentists, entertain negative discussions that have no basis in science.

What can we do to stop this trend?  Perhaps better controls over dental advertising.  Let’s not have anything resembling a coupon in our ads, shall we?  Perhaps better quality information online, like  These and other measures are being undertaken by the ADA to help protect our profession.  What else do you think can be done?


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