Lynne Clark talks to Amy Barnes, Business Director of The Lytham Dental Clinic, about why and how they’ve started prescribing the plan membership in a similar way they would a treatment plan and the benefits of communicating it using this approach…
Based in central Lytham, the fully private practice is experiencing a boom in treatment uptake as well as new patient enquiries, especially from NHS patients who are struggling to get appointments with local NHS practices. As a result, they’ve found themselves in an ideal position where the opportunities are aplenty to sign patients to their plan membership.
During lockdown, the plan membership became one of the main lifelines for the practice and now forms an integral part of the business plan moving forward.
Amy and her husband Stuart, who is the Principal Dentist, have developed an approach that cements the plan membership as the default option with their patients. They do this simply by prescribing it to patients in the surgery, like they would a treatment plan or antibiotics, as the best way for them to maintain their dental health rather than relying on patients to select their own.
Lynne: How do you communicate with your patients in order to prescribe a plan to them?
Amy: Prescribing the plan is down to Stuart as the dentist, as he’s where our patients place their trust.
Based on the patient’s dental health, we have a range of plan options, from entry-level to more comprehensive maintenance. Stuart will talk to the patient in depth so that they understand their current dental health level and why the membership has been recommended.
We also build the plan membership into our treatment plans for patients, so once the consultation with Stuart has taken place, I take over the treatment plan and discuss how the membership plan fits in to their treatment.
Lynne: Where did you start when beginning to prescribe your plan membership to your patients?
Amy: For us, it was about changing our plan offering to suit multiple demographics.
We inherited the plan membership from the previous owners of the practice, and we felt that the plans in place just didn’t work for our patients or the new direction that we were taking the business.
While Lytham is primarily an affluent retirement area, we’ve increased our cosmetic offering to attract a much younger demographic. These patients came to us for orthodontics, whitening and bonding, etc., so in order for them to continue their maintenance care with us after treatment, we needed a more entry-level plan to suit their particular needs.
We developed the plans with Janet, our Regional Support Manager, who really got to grips with what our goals were and counselled us through the process. I would recommend starting the prescription strategy by reviewing your plans with your Regional Support Manager.
From then on, prescribing a plan was much easier, as we were confident it was the best choice for patients to see us for routine care.
Lynne: Do all your team take part in the process?
Amy: The whole team has an understanding of the plan membership, but the prescription process only happens with key team members to keep consistency. This is our way of quality controlling the patient journey.
We’ve expanded a lot since lockdown and have taken on new team members to deal with demand, so the more experienced members of the team deliver the plan communication.
We’re trialling a new process where I’ll sit in ten minutes before the end of a consultation, then walk the patients out to reception for a more seamless journey. This way I understand which plan is needed, so I can communicate in line with what Stuart has said and the patients feel more comfortable as I was a part of the conversation.
Lynne: Do patients ever say ‘no’? What would you do in those circumstances?
Amy: If it’s a new patient that hasn’t really developed a relationship with us yet, that can be a barrier as they’re unsure of the financial commitment to a dentist they haven’t really tried out.
These patients tend to be our younger demographic who are undertaking cosmetic treatment, so in these cases we don’t push the subject, that’s quite important for us – we’re prescribing the plan, not selling the plan.
We prescribe the plan again to them at the end of their treatment – having just paid for their smile makeover. Our experience is that patients are much more receptive to the plan if it will help them maintain their dental health going forwards.
Lynne: How do you communicate the plan supporting patients’ dental health?
Amy: We see the membership as an investment with the reward being dentally healthy for life.
Patients are becoming more switched on and aware of the knock-on effects of poor dental health that can develop into general health problems. Any words that back that up, such as a reduced risk of gum disease, tooth loss and expensive treatment in future, all fit in with a prescription approach to signing up members to the plan.
With the ongoing pandemic, patients are also more aware of their health and we’re speaking to patients where they’re actively looking for areas to improve it. The plan lends itself well to that aim.
One thing I always do once a patient has completed treatment is make sure I ask, ‘Would you like to stay with us so we can look after your routine care?’ This provides the opportunity to open a discussion around the membership plan.
Lynne: Thank you for your time Amy, there’s some great advice for practices who are looking to introduce a similar process to boost their plan numbers.
Amy was a successful primary school teacher for around 10 years before moving careers to become the management behind The Lytham Dental Clinic. She has transferred the skills learnt through teaching and has affectively applied them to the world of dentistry. Together with her husband Stuart, they lead The Lytham Dental Clinic, a fully private practice in central Lytham.
Lynne Clark is a Regional Support Manager at Practice Plan and has 25 years’ experience in the dental industry, including 18 in practice. Practice Plan is the UK’s leading provider of practice-branded patient membership plans, partnering with over 1,500 dental practices and offering a wide range of business support services.