24 Apr 2013  •  Practice Management  •  3min read

Practice What You Preach – Free To Market?

Former Technical Director at Practice Plan, Graham Penfold is renowned for his expertise in strategically advising dental practices and writing on policy and managerial issues affecting dentistry. Here, Graham shares his knowledge on using incentives in the practice.

Rewards, promotions and special offers; tantalising words for some and an anathema to others, but becoming increasingly common amongst dentistry where practices are looking for more ways to attract new patients. I find that more and more practices are asking ‘What incentives could be offered to patients as an incentive to refer patients or join a dental plan without falling foul of the GDC guidelines?’ Therefore, I decided to write to the GDC and ask them four specific questions:

  1. I have a dental plan at my practice and want to reward any patient that joins it with an introductory offer – say a £25 Marks and Spencer voucher; can I do this? If so, is there any financial limit to such an introductory offer?
  1. I have a dental plan at my practice and if any of my existing patients introduce a patient to me who joins my dental plan, then I want to reward the patient that introduced them with say a £25 Marks and Spencer voucher; can I do this? If so, is there any financial limit to such a gesture?
  1. Can I say to a patient that if they join my dental plan then the first two months are free? If so, should I be aware of any limitations to this offer?
  1. Can I offer either a patient who joins my dental plan or someone who introduces them to half price teeth whitening? If so, what are the restrictions to offering this option?

The reply from the GDC was prompt and, I found, helpful. This is summarised below.

‘We do not have rules banning any particular discounts, loyalty schemes, or practice plans. Our guidance is designed to make sure that all decisions prioritise the best interests of patients rather than any commercial interest. The real test of any incentive would be if the dentist’s decision was called into question, whether they would be able to justify it.’

‘Incentives of the nature referred to in your four patient-focused examples are common in all commercial businesses and it is the patient who has to make a decision as to whether to be convinced by the marketing or not. However, with point four, it is important that the patient is made aware that they might not be suitable for teeth whitening and that the offer is subject to a full mouth assessment by the dentist. We would be concerned if every patient was to be offered teeth whitening as it may well not be appropriate and would certainly not be in the patient’s best interests to recommend teeth whitening for financial gain.’

So, if you want to make an offer to new patients or reward existing ones for referring patients to you, then a token is okay provided it is proportionate and both relevant and appropriate for the individual patient. In short, you are free to market.

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