No doubt, if you have turned on a TV in the last 24 hours, you have seen a direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertisement. Overseen by the Food & Drug Administration, these ads are typically targeted at the public with the goal of getting people to ask their doctor for a specific drug, joint implant, or even a surgical procedure. Direct to patient advertising on television, radio, in magazines, and more recently online, has largely had a positive impact on increasing the general population’s awareness of specific therapies that may be right for them.
Historically, the majority of DTC advertising has been aimed at patients who are seeing a physician for a medical condition and, in a 500-physician survey conducted by the FDA in 2004, most physicians thought that DTC ads made their patients more involved in their health care and felt that they had better conversations with their patients, who were more aware of treatment options when they arrived for their visit1.
Sleep dentists across the country have also been advertising their practices to patients, both current and potential, for several years. With the potential number of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) patients in the US needing treatment being between 10 and 15 million, there is a significant opportunity to improve awareness and access to care for those desperately seeking treatment other than CPAP. Because of this unmet need in the market, dental sleep specialists have begun reaching out to the masses via radio, TV and internet advertising.
To give you an example of how this could work for you, we caught up with Dr. Kien Nguyen, the President of SomnoMed North America to get his perspective on growing a sleep practice. In the greater Dallas Fort Worth area, where SomnoMed – the global leader in COAT (Continuous Open Airway Therapy) has their North American headquarters, there has been a noticeable increase in patients receiving a SomnoMed device in the last 3 years.
DSP: Kien – can you tell us about the growth your company has seen in the DFW area in the last couple of years?
A: When I look at our business in the DFW area from July 2014 to June 2015 and compare it to July 2015 to June 2016, I see a growth rate of greater than 25% year over year. This is the growth of individual sleep dentists and does not take into account any of our corporate sleep dental customers. If we include our corporate clients, I would expect to see a growth of over 50% year over year. These growth rates are higher than the national average for oral devices.
DSP: Do you have any dental sleep customers who advertise their practices directly to patients?
A: We have dental customers throughout the country, as well as here in North Texas, who actively promote their sleep practice to patients. The most common DTC advertisements are print ads in local newspapers and magazines. I have seen several in my travels. Other doctors have tried billboard advertising and some have even used radio advertising. Radio is more expensive and requires a good understanding of the listening audience, but can be very effective to reach a broader group of patients.
DSP: Have you seen growth from a specific customer or many customers in the metro area?
A: Here in North Texas, we have had many customers (over 20) who have grown their sleep practices with us over the past few years. Some have recently started treating sleep patients, while other have been working in sleep medicine for many years. It is wonderful to see more trained and educated dentists entering the sleep space. There are thousands of potential OSA patients in North TX who need to be diagnosed and offered the appropriate clinical treatment. Of course, this is also true in every other part of the country.
DSP: Do you believe the growth across these customers can be attributed to DTC advertising?
A: The growth experienced by customers who regularly conduct DTC advertising is directly linked to driving greater patient awareness of their practice and services. However, the benefit of DTC advertising can also expand to other dental practices doing sleep who do not advertise to patients. For example, there are anecdotal cases where some customers have gained new patients who were exposed to the DTC advertising, learned about oral devices, and conducted their own internet search for local dental sleep providers rather than going to the ‘advertising’ dentist. Greater awareness of the problem via DTC advertising leads to more patients choosing treatment. I believe that when CPAP non-adherent patients become aware of an alternative to CPAP, they also contact their sleep physicians and seek a prescription for an oral device. The latest AASM/AADSM guideline on oral device states the following: “We recommend that sleep physicians consider prescription of oral appliances, rather than no treatment, for adult patients with obstructive sleep apnea who are intolerant of CPAP therapy or prefer alternate therapy.2”
DSP: How does SomnoMed support the dental sleep practices in your local market?
A: SomnoMed has, and will continue to, support our dental customers by providing the highest quality oral devices and customer services. In addition, our field sales representatives will call on local sleep physicians to promote oral devices and direct the referrals to our customers’ dental sleep practices. We continue to educate sleep physicians on the latest clinical data on oral devices and invest in clinical research to generate more clinical data on oral devices for OSA. Our marketing team, working closely with Dr. Jagdeep Bijwadia (SomnoMed Chief Medical Officer), are developing tools to help sleep physicians and their clinical staff discuss oral devices with their patients. This critical patient education at the sleep clinic minimizes patient leakage from their medical doctor to their sleep dentist. Furthermore, we continue to drive greater patient awareness of oral devices with our social media efforts.
DSP: What do you think the long-term impact of more dental sleep practices advertising directly to the patient will be?
A: Longer term, targeted DTC advertising will lead to more and more patients becoming aware of different treatment options, including oral devices, for their OSA condition. I believe this will lead to more patients seeking a clinical diagnosis and eventually treatment. At the same time, greater understanding of oral devices could also lead to less leakage of patients who have received a referral for an oral device but have not moved forward with treatment. We see leakage rates of greater than 50%, due to patients not fully understanding the health impact of no treatment or the value that educated sleep dentists can provide.
As more patients with OSA become aware of convenient, high-quality and comfortable oral devices, sleep dentists in the US are well poised to enhance their role in helping these at-risk people return to restful nights and refreshing days.