Meet Dr David Hills, the dental disruptor

Dr David Hills

Dr David Hills recently partnered with Dentsply Sirona to help expand the business. Photography: Shae Giles

Dr David Hills’ dentist-comparison platform has created a much-needed solution for a widespread industry problem. By Clea Sherman

One of the most significant challenges of running a dental practice can be simply getting enough patient numbers through the door. In areas where competition is stiff, practitioners can spend thousands on impressive websites and expensive Google Adword campaigns, without the guarantee of more customers. 

As a dentist and practice owner, there is also the problem of social proof of your expertise and professionalism to clients before they walk through the door. Publishing testimonials on your website breaches Dental Board of Australia rules. So how can patients express their appreciation of you? 

To improve patient numbers and support the practices that deserve to stand out from the crowd, Gold Coast-based dentist and practice owner Dr David Hills recently launched the new online platform, iNEEDaDentist. 

Almost entirely self-funded by Dr Hills, this service provides online search, comparison and booking services for patients in need of a dentist. Patients can quickly find a clinic that suits their requirements, or request second opinions and find better treatment options. 

Digital solution

Entrepreneurially minded and highly energetic, Dr Hills has packed a great deal into his 10-year dental career. After a short time as an employed dentist, he soon realised he was better suited to running his own practice. One clinic soon turned into two, and before long Dr Hill and his business partner were overseeing 15 practices, two laboratories and a training facility.

After witnessing how challenging it can be for privately owned clinics to find clients and remain competitive among the growing number of corporate providers, Dr Hill identified the country’s dental profession as fertile ground for tech disruption. A dentist-only platform could improve on existing comparison solutions and make it easier for professional dentists to attract clients. 

Having conceived the idea for iNEEDaDentist, Dr Hill travelled to the USA, where he spent time learning the requirements of a user-friendly comparison and referral platform. He sought guidance from tech-based business owners, including the founder of 1-800-Dentist, a US platform with the same purpose as iNEEDaDentist. 

After a rapid development phase, iNEEDaDentist launched in Australia in March 2018. Initially focusing on the South-east Queensland market, the platform now recommends practices from all over the east coast and is set to continue expanding. 

Patient-centric platform

The premise for iNEEDaDentist is simple. Like other comparison websites which help you find a home loan, a real estate agent or a credit card, the engine first requires users to enter some non-identifying details. This includes their suburb or postcode, their treatment needs and their age. 

Users can also add requirements relating to their favoured form of payment and preferred health insurance provider. Finally, they can specify their interest in a child-friendly dentist, search for after-hours appointments and even find a clinic offering Netflix and free wi-fi. 

“Patients … are unlikely to do any in-depth research, so they will have no idea if the dentist they are about to trust with their teeth has been sued in the past, or if they are using outdated equipment.”—Dr David Hills, founder, iNEEDaDentist

iNEEDaDentist’s search results identify the dental clinics within a seven-kilometre radius which are the best match for the patients’ requirements. Users can view their options as a list or on a map, before either clicking to visit a practice’s website or making a booking from within the platform. 

To create a level playing field and be as helpful for users as possible, iNEEDaDentist already lists almost every dental practice in the country at no charge. However, clinics that subscribe as Promoted members receive highlighted listings, and unlimited patient bookings and enquiries. Promoted members can also display staff photos and practice images, and share information sheets with prospective patients after paying their monthly fee. 

Premium members have the added option of sharing a 3D tour of their clinic, and including a direct link to their PMS booking page. Through iNEEDaDentist, they are promoted via Google AdWords, on Facebook and on Instagram. Premium members also have access to digital patient onboarding services and to analytics detailing how many visitors their listing receives each month. 

The business model means dentists are not charged for patient enquiries. To guarantee privacy, the platform never stores personal details or shares user information with third parties.

Clarity for customers

As Dr Hills explains, most people who have a toothache or are looking for a dentist to handle their ongoing oral care take a stab in the dark when selecting a dentist. 

“Patients have no way of knowing if they are visiting a truly reliable practitioner. They are unlikely to do any in-depth research, so they will have no idea if the dentist they are about to trust with their teeth has been sued in the past, or if they are using outdated equipment.”

iNEEDaDentist answers a lot of patient questions, not only about services available but the overall standards of a clinic. For Premium members, offering a 3D virtual tour via the platform can demonstrate that your practice is well presented, which is an effective drawcard for new clients. 

This industry-exclusive platform also shares customer feedback with new patients, while keeping industry regulations in mind. “When doing my research, I found star-based systems giving a score out of five were confusing for users,” says Dr Hills. “The iNEEDaDentist platform instead shares the percentage of positive feedback.”

After a patient has booked and attended an appointment through iNEEDaDentist, they receive a short survey from the platform. This requests answers to a few basic quality control questions covering whether their appointment ran to time and if they felt well-informed. The patient’s anonymous positive, negative or neutral responses go towards the clinic’s overall feedback rating. The clinics with strong positive results will receive a higher ranking on the platform. 

“This benefits practices that are doing the right thing and helps patients make more informed decisions,” explains Dr Hills. “And because it shares non-clinical information, iNEEDaDentist is compliant with industry regulations surrounding testimonials.”

Strategic partnerships

To expand the reach of iNEEDaDentist and offer the best services to customers, Dr Hills is looking to form strategic alliances with major industry players. 

“My hope for iNEEDaDentist is that it will give like-minded clinics better exposure to the patient numbers they are worthy of, at a price which offers an excellent return on investment.”—Dr David Hills, founder, iNeedaDentist

The first of these partnerships is with product and technology provider Dentsply Sirona. “Dentsply Sirona has an unparalleled commitment to R&D, having some of the most advanced dental equipment on the market. It makes sense to align with a company looking to offer patients a great dental experience using advanced digital technology,” says Dr Hills.

The partnership will include cross-promotional opportunities across TV ads and other platforms. “We are able to leverage the brand power of our partner to assist in growing our brand. This will increase exposure for our practitioners who are listed on the platform,” says Dr Hills.

Dentsply Sirona director of marketing Darren Jones says his business and iNEEDaDentist are aligned in their commitment to delivering better, safer, faster dental care. “Dentsply Sirona provides the procedural solutions and enabling technologies that support dental professionals in their efforts to deliver enhanced patient outcomes. iNEEDaDentist provides a convenient, easy-to-use solution that enables patients to locate a dentist that best suits their needs. Our partnership, based on shared values, a commitment to patient care and providing innovative solutions that redefine dental care, benefits patients.”

Giving back to the industry

A private dentist himself, Dr Hills has witnessed how hard it can be to thrive financially while competing against large corporate practices. His goal in creating iNEEDaDentist was not only to improve patient services and industry standards, but to make it easier for the ‘little guys’ to stand out. 

“We have a strict review process and only want to feature the best clinics on our platform,” says Dr Hills, who is motivated to give independent operators more presence in the cluttered online advertising space. 

Dr Hills is also aware of how much of a dent marketing can have on a dentist’s budget. “I’ve heard of clinics who have spent upwards of $70,000 on online campaigns, only to have nothing to show for it at the end of the year.” 

The aim with iNEEDaDentist is not to rake in the profits, but to provide an affordable platform that is easily accessible for dental clinics of all sizes. 

Several hundred clinics have joined the platform as Promoted or Premium members, and Dr Hills has had excellent feedback. Dr Dassen Naidoo runs Family One Dental on the Gold Coast and has taken up a listing on iNEEDaDentist, showcasing what his practice has to offer patients. So far, the business has benefited from new bookings via the platform, with Dr Naidoo saying online bookings are attractive because people tend to fear making medical appointments via phone.

iNEEDaDentist is expecting user numbers to take off over the next few months. “We are set to launch advertising campaigns across several different public-facing platforms and will target high-spending patients,” explains Dr Hills.

“In the clinics I own, quality control is a huge part of providing professional care and service. My hope for iNEEDaDentist is that it will give like-minded clinics better exposure to the patient numbers they are worthy of, at a price which offers an excellent return on investment.” 


COMPARING ONLINE COMPARISON WEBSITES

iNEEDaDentist has unique features and is industry-specific but is not the only website of its kind. Other dental and general medical websites include…

HealthEngine

This platform shares listings of dentists, GPs, counsellors, podiatrists and other medical professionals. Patients refine their search by location, payment preference, opening hours and language. 

Practices can share photos, staff details and information covering preferred healthcare providers on HealthEngine. Paying members can access featured listings, Google AdWord support and more.  

Visit www.healthengine.com.au

Whitecoat

Originally launched in 2013 by NIB, Bupa and HBF signed a heads of agreement in 2016 to join NIB as investors and participants in expanding the platform. 

Users access Whitecoat to search through more than 210,000 providers, across over 25 healthcare industries around Australia. This site provides moderated customer reviews for many of its listings and allows practitioners to get started and claim their profile for free. 

Visit www.whitecoat.com.au 

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