Donna Hall talks to Craig Walsh about why he decided to move away from the NHS and go membership-only after the practice reopened following lockdown…
Donna: Why did you decide to move from being a mixed practice to fully private, and how did COVID-19 impact this decision?
Craig: When I bought Buxton Dental Practice, I had a small NHS contract, a list of membership plan patients and a list of private PAYG patients. So, I had the opportunity to try these different elements and find which mix worked best for me.
I sat down and thought about what I loved doing most when I first came out of dental school and what I didn’t like doing now, when it came to practising, and what I needed to do to get back to doing more of what makes me happy.
I thought about what my ethos was and what kind of dentistry I wanted to provide, and I decided that to do that I had to be fully private and membership-only. This was just before we went into lockdown, which obviously put the brakes on everything.
Our membership plan was vital during lockdown, which only served to reinforce my decision. It was a real lifeline for the practice and provided continuity of cashflow during a time of zero hands-on activity.
A positive side of lockdown was that it gave me more time for due diligence, think it through thoroughly and make sure my gut feeling was correct. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reflect on everything and do some evidence-based planning on how best to move forwards.
Coronavirus has been really difficult for so many, and incredibly sad for so many more, so if there’s anything positive to take from it, we really should grasp those opportunities.
Donna: Why did you decide to implement two changes at the same time – going fully private and membership-only?
Craig: In general, people don’t like change. So, if we’re making changes, I think it’s best to do it boldly and swiftly, especially when they will make things better for the practice and for patients who believe in our ethos.
We won’t be able to please everyone, there’s no way you can. But all dentists have those patients who they really connect with and have great rapport. I have so much more of that with plan patients than I do when I’m thinking about having to reach a certain number of UDAs or amount of private PAYG treatments, and I definitely do my best work when I’m in that state of flow.
Donna: Did you have any concerns about making these changes, and how did you overcome them?
Craig: I’m a very optimistic person and I love finding ways to make things easier for the patient and better for the practice. But whenever you make a change, there’s a reaction, and not knowing what that might be is always a concern.
So, of course, there was concern around how patients, especially the older demographic, would react. But we thought about it in advance and made sure that if anyone did have any queries about moving onto the plan, we would sit down and have a proper discussion about it.
If they still don’t really understand why we’re doing it and the ethos behind it, then we’re probably not the right practice for them so we’ll help all we can to find one that is.
But in general, the patient feedback has been positive. The patients we expected to have concerns have been addressed; I leave time at the end of each day so that I can contact any patients who do have queries and have a proper chat to alleviate any worries.
That is something we do anyway. If patients have longer appointments than anticipated or a long treatment booked in, we’ll always call them to follow up, and it’s always appreciated. So, we’re just applying that same service to this scenario.
I really wanted to move quickly from mixed to fully private and membership-only, so we could move forward after lockdown and build an even stronger business as soon as possible. If there is another wave coming, we are ready to dive right through it.
Donna: How did you bring the team on board with implementing the changes?
Craig: When I bought the practice three years ago, there was a plan provider already in place but I knew early on I wanted to move to a practice-branded plan that could give me much better support, so I moved to Practice Plan.
My team and I did the quickest conversion ever, from one provider to another. So, when it came to moving totally private and plan-only, I knew we just needed to take the same approach.
We’ve worked together, with your support at Practice Plan, to make sure the message about why we’re doing this has been fully understood by the whole team so everyone is saying exactly the same thing to anyone with concerns and they feel fully prepared for any questions.
And I always make sure my team know I am fully there for them and that I am more than happy to talk to patients who might have questions, it is not just the responsibility of the front desk.
Donna: What advice do you have for anyone else thinking of gaining even more independence from the NHS or moving to membership-only?
Craig: Why wouldn’t you? I don’t think there’s ever been a better time. For me, there is an opportunity to transition away from the NHS and to membership-only with a lower risk than I’ve ever had before, due to the abatement for the NHS contract. And of course, no one knows yet what will happen in the future with that figure or the contract.
I think we’re actually in a honeymoon period now and the aftershocks are still to come. As practices move forward over the next 12-18 months, they’re in for a bumpy ride if they don’t have a strong business plan or some kind of financial protection.
Donna: Craig, as always great to chat to you and interesting to hear about the changes you’re making to your business model.
Donna Hall has been a Regional Support Manager at Practice Plan, the UK’s leading provider of practice-branded patient membership plans, for five years. Practice Plan has helped hundreds of dentists make a successful move to private dentistry. If you’re looking for more independence or freedom from the NHS and a more fulfilling and rewarding future, call 01691 684165 or visit practiceplan.co.uk
Dr Craig Walsh BDS BSc is the owner of Buxton Dental Practice, situated right in the heart of the Peak District.
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