Les Jones talks to Chris Barrow about the challenges facing dentists now and opportunities for the future…
Since the beginning of lockdown, Chris Barrow has been in constant contact with hundreds of dentists through his daily briefings, webinars and online coaching programme. Here, Les Jones speaks to Chris to find out more about what the conversations he has been having have revealed about the major concerns of dentists and what the next few months could hold…
Les: What’s your view of the main concerns of dental practices?
Chris: Everybody’s trying to deal with their own individual Rubik’s Cube. Like trying to match up all the colours on the sides of the cube, we’ve got different sides in dentistry that people are trying to get to grips with.
The first side is how to physically do the job while wearing all the PPE that’s now required. So many clinicians are saying it’s not just uncomfortable but it’s restricting their ability to perform clinically.
Then there’s the productivity side of the puzzle, i.e. how do we fit people in these rooms in a way that’s going to be safe? Every practice is looking at the configuration of the building and their surgeries and asking how can we safely move patients/teams around the building?
While also factoring in that this needs to be done at a speed which is compliant with SOPs but also deals with the third problem.
The third problem, certainly in the private sector, is patients who want to get back in the building. The fantastic news for those with a membership scheme is that the overwhelming majority of patients have stayed loyal to their plan. However, those patients now want value for money, and they’re expecting the practice to do some kind of miraculous catch-up at a time when those practices are having to slow down in order to be safe.
Another side of the puzzle is looking at each member of the clinical team and figuring out who they can fit where and when, and what they can do.
Every single client that I’m working with is busy spinning that Rubik’s Cube, and stopping two or three times a day to say, ‘How is it working?’. Everyone is on a learning curve, involving new processes and procedures.
Les: One of those new processes that we’ve seen a lot of practices switch to has been an increased use of digital in terms of the patient journey. Do you think that that’s a positive shift that might stay after things settle down?
Chris: I do, indeed. It’s like the wheel has gone forward six or seven ratchets, but the ratchet means that the wheel can’t go backwards.
The interesting thing is that before Coronavirus, all the talk about digital dentistry was related to the clinical experience. But now we’ve gone digital in terms of communication with the patient both before, during and after the treatment
I think what will happen now is that as the SOPs begin to relax and the level of PPE is reduced to a comfortable stage, the savvy practice owner is going to look not just at specific clinical procedures, like short-term ortho or implants, but at their own recall system and say, ‘Okay, what have we learned from this in terms of the extent of our preventive maintenance programme, that we can actually move into a virtual environment?’
What we’re seeing is a thing called MAMA MIA – which stands for Minimal Attendance, Minimal Aerosol, Minimal Invasive Aesthetics.
All of my clients who are offering services in what you would loosely call the cosmetic dental marketplace, are telling me that business is absolutely booming. They’ve done video consultations with potential new patients during lockdown and that, together with their existing patient database, has built up a reservoir of unmet dental needs.
Now, of course, they need to meet that demand. I think that the next few months until Christmas will be spent catching up and it will be early 2021 before patient flow begins to return to normal.
Les: There’s no doubt that amid all the negativity there are still opportunities arising. Do you see practices grasping those opportunities?
Chris: I’m reminded of the story of Julius Caesar landing on the shores of England and the very first thing he did was order all the boats to be burned. That’s a really, really simple message, which is ‘you can have a crack at swimming back but you’re not going on my ticket.’
When Boris Johnson stood up on the 23rd March and announced ‘lockdown’, every single one of us had our boats burned, in terms of both our professional and personal habits.
When it comes to the business of dentistry, you can’t get back from all of this. You can’t turn up in January 2021 and say, ‘Right, now COVID-19’s finished with, can we go back to beige patient record cards, and a big book that we can write the appointments in with a pencil?’ It’s ludicrous to even consider that.
Although that’s an extreme example, there may be some team members who will want to go back to the way things were. This is an opportunity for the owners and the managers to say no.
The reason for that was stipulated by that well-known business coach, Charles Darwin, who suggested that a species evolves through a process of continuous adaptation. Evolution doesn’t have a backwards gear; it just goes forward. The only alternative to that is extinction.
Les: Looking ahead to January 2021 and beyond, what changes do you expect to see in dentistry?
Chris: One thing we know for sure is that the unit of dental activity will be joining the extinct list. So, NHS dentistry is going to evolve. It’s going to move forward into a new form and this will help dentists to make a decision about whether they want to actually play that game anymore.
Some will embrace whatever the next version of NHS dentistry looks like, but my personal view is that there will be many more who will see the events of 2020 as the straw that broke the camel’s back and it might encourage people to move away from the NHS.
I’m hearing from lots of owners who want to sell their practice but also from a lot of associates who want to buy a practice.
I believe we’re going to see a lot of mobility in terms of owners and associates who are on the move in terms of ownership. A lot of clinicians are also already beginning to start mobilising in the sense of moving to a new practice because they’re not happy with the way they were treated during 2020
We’re also going to see patient mobility. What I mean by that is a lot of patients are ringing my clients and saying, ‘I’ve either had no contact with my practice during lockdown, or the contact that I’ve had has been very poor, and so I’ve decided I’m going to find myself a new practice.’
But the good news about that is when there is that degree of mobility in any market, it creates opportunity.
Les: Chris, as always, it’s been great to chat and to hear your thoughts, thanks for sharing.
Les Jones is the Creative Director at Practice Plan, the UK’s number one provider of practice-branded dental plans. He has over 30 years’ experience of working within the creative and dental sectors in the fields of design, marketing and strategic consultancy. If you are interested in finding out more about how we help practices to become more profitable, call 01691 684165 or visit practiceplan.co.uk
Chris has been a trainer, consultant, coach and mentor to the UK dental profession for over 20 years. Straight talking and determined, he can reach conclusions quickly and has the reflexes and lightness of touch to innovate, change tack and push boundaries.
A leading authority on the business of dentistry, Chris regularly contributes to the dental press, social media and online and has co-authored books and published a series of e-books on the business of dentistry. Chris spends most of his professional time mentoring independent dental entrepreneurs under the “Coach Barrow” brand.