Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Orthodontics and Social Media

Rating an Orthodontist by their online footprint?

As we move more and more into the technological age and the age of social media, we relay more and more on the word of others including Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Blogs, etc. etc.  This often includes semi-anonymous ratings on various online search engines and listings such as yelp, Google and others.  We even have neighborhood “service orientated” groups that offer advice and recommendations from neighbors with the assumption that reviews are objective and honest (and accurate).  But how honest and relevant are these reviews?  Who are we allowing to make medical decisions for ourselves and our families?

Recently we had an election for President of the US, I am sure you have all heard of Russian interferences through Social Media platforms and false accounts.  Essentially, it turns out that foreign nations such as Russia have learned how social media can influence behavior and actions by driving certain conversations and providing false information in what may seem like an honest presentation; once provided in a well-known platform like Facebook, the normal person may be misled and act out accordingly.
And here is another beauty:

Advertisers for certain Orthodontic treatments (among many services and products) have learned these same tricks to a much more effective degree.  There is an entire industry of tech-savvy young “professionals” that provide social media driven advertising including fake recommendations and “likes”, fake followers and gimmicky ads that pop up on our phones or computers as if providing a service out of the niceness of their little hearts.  
Professionals like Orthodontists that practice in competitive markets (such as here in Austin or any other decently sized city) have in turn realized that without an online footprint they are at a disadvantage.

Typical consultant advertisement for doctors.
Additionally, companies that would normally provide data and research to doctors for review have learned to skip the doctors/experts and advertise their products straight to the consumers as if orthodontics is a small appliance or box of candy for consumption.   Some companies have even changed the landscape of the profession as a whole by telling patients exactly what they want to hear and making promises beyond belief, ultimately becoming so large that they simply out-advertise and out maneuver all of their competition including the doctors themselves.  Invisalign comes to mind but there are many similar products that over-promise and under deliver.
So What is the Solution?
So now I would probably go into the answer for the problem; a solution following great thought and much deliberation however, like so many others in practice, I really do not have a good answer to simple human nature.  In truth, we just have a hard time dismissing something or questioning something that is presented in a professional and well placed venue.  It used to be a joke that “I heard it on the Internet so it must be true” however this is simply not a joke anymore.  People as a whole do believe what they hear and advertisers know this; they use it to push one product over another and one practice over another.
Believe it or not, false reviews are actually accepted in business today as a necessity; just look at the following articles:

We have to remember that even though there is a long history of ethics in medicine, the lines of business and medicine blur as more companies buy medical and dental offices and commercial (and un-regulated) social media becomes more a of a driving force for referrals.  Many succumb to the age-old adage “if you can’t beat them, join them”.
What can you do to assure you are seeing an expert Specialist in Orthodontics?
If you are looking for a great Orthodontist what can you do to make sure you are at the right office?  The time-tested simple way to know you are choosing a great doctor is the same it has always been:
1.     You can talk to friends that have had treatment at the office.
2.     You can review that Orthodontists online information and check their experience, confirm they are a true Orthodontist/specialist, see how long they have been in practice.
3.     You can check to see if they are Board Certified and a Diplomate of the American Board of Orthodontics and member of the American Association of Orthodontists (these are the two ONLY organizations for true specialists).
4.     You can set an appointment and meet them in person (this is always a free visit); at this visit you should get an idea of what that Orthodontist would do, if there is a problem and when any problem should be treated.  They should be able to show you some of their previous work with similar patients.  If you or your child is ready for treatment, they will likely recommend records (pictures, impressions and a couple X-rays).
5.     A good Orthodontist will not start treatment without providing a written treatment plan and copies of the records to you at a consult.  There may be treatment options but a good Orthodotist will ultimately tell you what is possible with different appliances/aligners/braces and which is best (and why).
Other things to look for are a nice, clean office independent of other doctors and with friendly staff.  Orthodontic offices are generally more open so you will likely see the office “in motion” and can see how the doctor and staff interact with the patients already in treatment.
So do online activity and/or reviews matter when choosing your Orthodontist?
Clearly if you are reading this Blog, you will know that I do try to educate my patients and the public through the Internet though it is only a small part of my practice and really meant more of a reference for people that may ask questions when I am out and about or for referring doctors looking to educate themselves for their own practice.  But I am in no way a great doctor because I have a Blog or have good reviews on the various social media and search engines.  I do not pay to be placed anywhere (and therefore I am probably on page 4 of Google which is essentially oblivion) and I do not hire professional reviewers or tech teams that push my online presence.  So online, I may be more difficult to find, I may not have 10000+ followers or 500 reviews.
What I do have is a good reputation with local doctors, patients and neighbors and I work very hard at that.  I will miss the casual patient who decides he/she should get teeth straightened because of a pop-up ad on their phone; I will miss the patients that are referred by Invisalign to their “favorite” doctors (which are usually general dentists and Orthodontists that may not even see the patient themselves for more than a brief minute to collect money).  I will probably never see the patient that lives and dies by online reviews since I will not pay for my own.  In truth, a great Orthodontist that places his/her patients first will never have the time to base their practice on such advertising and we would rather put our dollars into the comfort and care of our existing patients (or even keep our costs down for our patients) then pay monthly to have people tell others how great I am. 

As a consumer and prospective patient, you should take the time to do your own leg work and meet your local Orthodontist; if you have a choice (and most people do), then meet several.  Talk to them and get comfortable before committing your time and money.  Treatments can take 2 years; what you don’t want is a constantly revolving set of doctors or a careless doctor that never seems to see you or your family at each visit.  And once you do find a good Orthodontist, trust them and let them do their work; they will give you updates and make the process an easy one while providing a great service that can last a lifetime.
If you have questions or comments concerning this or any orthodontic question, please feel free to make a complimentary new-patient appointment at either my Steiner Ranch location or my North-central Austin location on West 35th street and MoPac.
Dr. James R. Waters is a 1996 graduate from UTHSC Dental School in San Antonio, 1997 graduate of Advanced Dentistry from the UNMC in Nebraska and the 2001 Valedictorian graduate from the prestigious Saint Louis University Orthodontic Program receiving the J.P. Marshall award for clinical excellence in 2001.  He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Science, Doctorate in Dental Surgery, a post-doctorate certificate in Advanced Dentistry, post-doctorate Degree in Orthodontics & Dentofacial Orthopedics and a Master of Science Degree in Orthodontics and is a Diplomate of the American Board of Orthodontics.  Dr. Waters and his wife of 20 years live in Austin, TX with their 4 children where he has a thriving, multi-faceted Specialist practice with locations in Steiner Ranch and North-Central Austin.  You can learn more about Dr. Waters at 

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