The Primary Care Marketing Problem

When was the last time you went to the dentist? Maybe six months ago, tops.

When was the last time you saw your regular doctor for a physical or any other checkup?

I went to my dentist today for my routine cleaning. I go every six months without fail. While in the waiting room I thought of how I haven’t seen my primary care physician in years.

My suspicion is that I’m not alone in this, that guys between 20-40 are more likely to have a reliable schedule with their dentist than their doctor. That’s likely to change after marriage, or maybe after they have children. But if it weren’t for those lifestyle changes many of us wouldn’t see a doctor until there’s pain, which is too late.

Which is how I’ve been doing it.

Yet it seems to me that dentist visits are automatic. They just happen as if you aren’t even involved in them.

Among doctors, dentists are the best at marketing.

How did this happen?

I think in two ways.

1. Dentists are better at generating repeat business

Guys, when do you schedule your next dentist appointment? Immediately after your cleaning. It’s almost like you can’t leave until your next appointment is in the books and you have a sticker in your hand to put on your calendar.

When do you schedule your next doctor appointment? When you suddenly can’t hear well out of your ear, or after a visit to the emergency room. That sort of thing.

2. Dentists face less resistance

When you see a dentist they clean your teeth and there’s a possibility you’ll get some bad news. But you go anyway because you have to get maintenance done. It’s like an oil change. No big deal.

A routine doctor visit pretty much tells you how well you’re doing. You probably already know the answer. You should change your diet. You should exercise more. If it isn’t good news it’s bad news. And we don’t like bad news.

So we ignore it. But the inevitability of illness happens, and you end up kicking yourself because it may not have happened if you had eaten more vegetables and just started exercising a few years ago like your physician would have told you.

Doctor visits are preventative maintenance. They’re more like state inspections, except it’s illegal to drive a vehicle with an expired inspection. It isn’t illegal to walk around in a body with an expired checkup sticker and symptoms telling you that your body is a ticking time-bomb.

Imagine the outcry there would be if that wasn’t the case, if it were illegal to go more than a year without getting checked out. But that’s the attitude we need.


The popular view is that dentists prevent problems and doctors fix problems. Which is wrong. They each need to do both.

Does that seem about right? Do primary care physicians have a marketing problem, or does the act of taking care of yourself have a marketing problem? I think both, and that’s at the core of many of the medical problems the country has right now.

But it isn’t up to them to fix their marketing problem. It’s up to you to fix yourself and change your behavior if it needs changing. It’s the beginning of the year, which is as good a time as any to think about setting up a regular schedule with your doctor, start exercising, and stop eating garbage.

I’ll call my guy tomorrow.