The word “Dental tourism” and “Overseas dentistry” in some cases may bring a negative connotation inferring to “cheap low quality” dentistry. Many patients who had undergone dental care abroad, more often than not, would come home with even more issues than they originally had. Hence, many dentists from their local community would remark “I see that you had some overseas dental work done.” But does the result remain the same (unexceptionally bad) to every single case? Obviously, the costs for having some work done and the quality are subject to vary dramatically from clinic to clinic, from region to region.
For more than two decades, clinics in Philippines, India, Mexico, Thailand, have all use the same descriptions to allure foreign patients. Certainly low-cost is the main attractor, but could there be other reasons for dental tourists to travel long distances in pursuit of dental treatments?
The sparks of price war is due to people constantly looking for ‘deals’ – they would only travel if savings are significant. This translate to patients will look for a total return on investment that will include treatment cost, travel cost, accommodation as well as incidental expenses. To optimize this, they will look for all-inclusive deals to reduce their potential financial risks.
In addition, there are massive competitions among dentists and dental clinics in emerging markets who all set the same goal: to maximize their revenues and see a big potential in dental travel. Whether it is one dental clinic with limited infrastructure, or a high end center with a wide range of offerings, both are trying to attract the same patients. This competition leads to chaos, confusion, and blurring of lines between the good, the bad, and the ugly.
With increasing awareness of the dental tourism, more and more clinics are spending more to get into the business of attracting foreign patients. Unfortunately most are relying on the same message, “We are the best dentists, we have the best technology, in a country you should travel to for a holiday, and we offer dental services at much less compared to your home country.” The same old song!
Another issue with dental tourism is transparency. There are instances when what is being marketed versus what is being delivered varies significantly. And how much do you trust what appeared on the ad? Are what they claim to be “the best” all true?
Nowadays, with the help of the World Wide Web and various rating/ reviewing websites, dental patients can evaluate clinics and choose the most suitable one for their needs. What you might not know is that a lot of these rating and reviewing sites would ask the clinics for some lobbying fee in return for a 5 stars rating or a spot in the top 3 in the region.
Rating agencies and reviews on the internet can both be good and bad, it either supports and destroys our business entirely. We have seen cases where clinics in China, Vietnam and Thailand, shut down because of a damaged reputation. To remain competitive and stay long term in the industry, clinics do what they need to evade negative public scrutiny. Disastrous and detrimental reviews damage a clinic or dentist permanently until they close and revive elsewhere. This perpetual loop causes ill feelings for our profession and the country we work in.
Being a dentist myself, I think the entire dental service, quality of experience and the knowing that a clinic is going to be supportive and available long after the patient has achieved their goal are the key factors to differentiation. Another reason I believe to be equally important and has to be taken into account is more highly knowledgeable patients are seeking not just cost but clinics that offer extremely high quality outcomes and outstanding advice. Choosing a high standard of quality of product that differentiates itself from the competitors is the way to succeed.
Dentistry is a tough profession since it entails a lot of important expert decisions that are done to prevent unforeseen predicaments. A good decision on whether to save a tooth or not may mean thousands of saved dollars years later, not to mention save you from embarrassment and a reluctant emergency trip to your dentist who would negatively comment “Who made that decision?”.