Fear is an emotion that commonly stops principals making the changes a practice needs to flourish, including, perhaps, switching to a new dental plan provider. Wanting to help dentists overcome any worries that may be blocking their line of sight, Regional Support Manager Suki Singh met with Nicola Rae, Barton Dental Centre’s Practice Manager, to get the inside scoop from a practice that cites their patients’ well-being as their driving force in making the change and hasn’t looked back since.
Suki: When I first met you in 2014, you told me that you felt your practice’s outlook could be better, and wanted guidance on how things could be improved for the dental team and your patients alike. Ultimately, a significant part of that was to switch your plan provider to Practice Plan. What was the catalyst for that change, do you think?
Nicola: As a team, we were concerned about the apparent decline in NHS funding within dentistry. Alongside that, we felt very strongly that as time went on there was going to be an increasing need for patients to have access to a dental plan, if we were going to be able to offer the best possible service. During this thought process, we were with a provider other than Practice Plan, but we had some concerns as to whether it offered our patients the best value for money. That’s why we started looking at other options and found that Practice Plan not only offered lower administration costs, which we could pass on to our patients, but also that our standards could remain second to none.
Time-wise, as you say, it was just over two years ago that we first started making enquiries about changing over. It took a good six months or so for us to make a decision, having had a few really valuable meetings with various people. As you know Suki, once we had made our decision to go with you, you set everything up for us. Everything was up and running in a period of about 12 to 15 months, which gave us plenty of time to switch over effortlessly without upsetting patients or feeling like we were going too slowly.
Suki: Obviously, the prospect of change is a concern for many dental teams and their patients. With this in mind, can you talk me though the switch process from your point of view as an instrumental member of the change management team for the practice?
Nicola: We looked at all of our options in depth before we made any changes because to face change you have to feel confident that the right processes are in place. We knew, of course, that it was going to create work for us as a practice and therefore wanted the best possible start-up and ongoing support from our chosen plan provider.
Then there was the all-important issue of our extremely loyal patient base. They weren’t likely to enjoy the prospect of change any more than us but, as I mentioned earlier, their well-being and the practice’s ability to offer value was our driving force to switch plan providers. Therefore, we had to be sure that the changes we were going to make would be for the better, for everyone.
“We’ve chosen a more gentle route, allowing us to talk to every patient coming in for a check-up over a relatively long period of time.”
We learned that there are different ways you can switch over. You can implement a blanket change and everybody gets moved over to a new plan in one day, but that can mean patients don’t get a choice about it, and that isn’t what we wanted for them. Instead, we’ve chosen a more gentle route, allowing us to talk to every patient coming in for a check-up over a relatively long period of time as a catch-all. We’ve then spoken to them on a one-to-one basis, both at reception and in the surgery, to guide them through it and explain what it means for them.
Suki: So far we have talked a lot about the fear of change. In practical terms, how did switching help to alleviate some of that?
Nicola: I think the main thing was that you took your time with us, so that we could build confidence in what we wanted to achieve with your support. Being talked through every stage and being told exactly what was needed from us was key to meeting the challenges of switching provider. Everything was taken care of, the orchestration was in someone else’s hands, which was really reassuring. And since then, other concerns such as how to print unique stationery, streamlining our recall system, and producing a newsletter for our patients have all been managed by Practice Plan. The ongoing guidance we now receive on how to do things is like nothing we have experienced before.
“What surprised us the most was how easy it was.”
Suki: It’s great to hear how confident you felt during the switch process and clearly you felt well prepared for what was to come, but was there anything that surprised the team about the switch or that you all found particularly helpful during the transition?
Nicola: What surprised us the most was how easy it was. For example, although we had considered that patients might not like the change, we haven’t had anybody who’s refused to switch over. In terms of finding anything particularly helpful, I think it has to be the time commitment and one-to-one support that you have been able to offer us as a team. You told us what to do, when to do it and how to do it. It wasn’t a case of receiving a big pack through the post and having to find our way through it. Everything has always been delivered in person and explained to us.
Suki: As the practice manager, what did you learn during the switch journey?
Nicola: That we shouldn’t be afraid of change. You might think from the outset that it’s going to create work but if, in the long run, that’s what is going to make things better for both the practice and for the patients, then you have to pursue it. I think it’s very easy to become complacent, sit tight, and let business take care of itself, but having been on this journey, I know that’s a disservice to the practice, the team and the patients. We all deserve the best possible environment in which to work and be treated.
“Choose what is right for the team and patients and you’ll never look back.”
Suki: Picking up on that point, what advice could you offer to any practices thinking about changing their provider and why?
Nicola: Do your research and take your time. Look at all the different dental plan providers out there, and speak to people who have been through the process to get honest feedback; this will certainly help you to decide what is right for your practice. We’ve all got our preferred options but it is important that you don’t just pick the easiest one. Choose what is right for the team and patients and you’ll never look back. Without a doubt that ethos has worked for us and our only regret is that the fear of change held us back from doing it sooner. A moment of clarity in seeing the real benefits of switching and we are so happy that we decided to make this positive change forward.