As the finer details of the proposed NHS contract reform become clearer, many dentists, faced with a limited scope for increasing income and a growing administrative burden, are starting to seriously consider a move to private dentistry.
There are many benefits that come with a successful private practice – greater control, opportunities to increase income, and the ability offer a wider range of treatments – so, what is it that’s stopping the trickle becoming a flood?
There are two big questions in the minds of most dentists:
How will it affect the morale and performance of my team – will they get on board?
How will my patients react – will enough of them stay with me?
In each of these two scenarios, effective communication is key to a successful outcome. Let’s take them in sequential order.
Communicating to your team
The introduction of change into any working environment will inevitably lead to some wariness on behalf of employees. Change represents a disruption of the status quo and if not handled correctly it can lead to resistance from members of the team.
To ensure that all members of the team are on board it’s important to communicate not just ‘what’ the proposed changes are, but also the ‘why’ and the ‘how’. Take the time to talk to the team as a whole and individually to explain the drivers behind the change and what benefits it will deliver to the practice as a whole and to them individually.
It’s important that you start with the big picture and let the smaller details follow later. Create and communicate a clear and positive vision of what life as a private practice will be like and how everyone has a part to play in making it a reality. You want your team to be excited about where your practice is heading, not worried about the minutiae of the journey to get you there.
Once the team are bought into the bigger picture, you can start to fill in the detail of what needs to be done to make it happen. And, of course, one area that is of vital importance is how the changes will be communicated to the practice’s patients.
Communicating to your patients
The first thing to be prepared for when communicating a change from NHS to private dentistry is that some patients will still want to continue receiving NHS dentistry and will exercise their right to move to another dentist or practice. This is natural, however, it is offset by the fact that those that remain with you on a private basis will, on average, generate more income than an NHS patient.
But of course, you will want to minimise the loss and encourage as many NHS patients to make the move to private care as possible. Once again, carefully planned and effective communication is vital to achieving this outcome.
You may wish to start the process by writing to each of your patients as a prelude to personal one-to-one conversations. In doing so, it is important that you concentrate on two main areas:
The professional drivers behind your decision to change
Clearly explain the professional reasons behind your decision; these might include a desire to spend more time with patients, to provide an enhanced service or to offer a wider range of treatments.
The benefits that the change will deliver to the patient
Most practices, when making the move to private dentistry, choose to introduce a patient membership plan as a means of replacing a proportion of the regular income they receive from the NHS. A plan provides a perfect platform for communicating the positive benefits of the move to patients. Firstly, it allows the patients to spread the cost of their private ‘maintenance’ care via a simple monthly Direct Debit.
Membership of the plan will also provide them with a discount against the cost of paying as they go and further discounts on additional treatments. Most membership plans also come with an insurance element that provides worldwide cover to the patient in the event of a dental trauma or emergency.
Once you have communicated the benefits of the change to your patients, be clear on what the next steps are – what you would like the patient to do, or what they can expect to happen when they next visit the practice.
When patients do come into the practice, or perhaps call for additional information about the change, it is essential that your team are fully briefed and well prepared to deal with any questions that may arise. They have a vital role to play in positively explaining the changes and then guiding the patient through the process of becoming a private patient. If you have decided to introduce a patient membership plan, your provider should be able to deliver training to all of your team on the right messages to convey and a clear process for signing patients up to the plan. This can be backed up by the provision of a simple piece of literature that introduces the features and benefits of the patient membership plan.
Private practice offers many exciting opportunities to dentists who are currently frustrated by the limitations and bureaucracy involved in delivering against an NHS contract. Of course, for many it is a big step to make, but with careful planning and effective communication, the route to a successful transition can be smooth and pain free.
About the author
Les Jones is the Marketing Director at Practice Plan and has over 30 years’ experience in branding and marketing. Les is part of our NHS Change Support Team; a group of specialists on hand to provide expert support and guidance on successfully converting to private practice.