Jayne Gibson asks mixed-practice owner, Louise Hunter, for her reflections on the impact of COVID-19…
The immediate aftermath of the outbreak of COVID-19 was a huge shock to the system for everybody. After lockdown was instigated, our personal and professional lives and the very fabric of society, seemed to change overnight.
Those changes have been long-lasting and we’re still feeling the effects and probably will for a lot longer. But now some time has passed since the outbreak and cessation of ‘normal’ dentistry as we knew it, I asked Louise Hunter, owner of a mixed private and NHS practice, for her thoughts on what she learned during the initial period of change. Here is what she said…
What I learned about my business
I think I have felt quite encouraged by how well placed my business is financially and in terms of its position in the local town/community.
When we heard the news we had to close, I will admit to both blind panic and devastation. I was both worried and upset that it had come to this. I was worried about paying the staff and the bills with no income coming in. I was also convinced that my Practice Plan patients would cancel their membership plans leading to a drop in income.
However, as it transpired, we have still had NHS income coming in and so far, not nearly as many plan patients as I expected have cancelled their plan. To date, we have only had around four cancellations.
We have kept up constant communication with our patients both by emailed newsletters and via our social media sites. Following the first newsletter I was blown away by the number of very positive replies and responses.
I also posted a video on Facebook on removing gloves, which had excellent feedback. The best one by far though was a team video we posted. The whole team got involved in a TikTok-style video in which we gave out handy hints on keeping teeth healthy during lockdown… it had more views than anything I have ever done before!
However, I have deliberately not marketed treatment to my patients. I felt it was more important to provide healthcare advice and just stay in touch rather than try and ‘sell’ treatment plans. Whilst unable to work ‘in’ the business I have been hard at work ‘on’ the business. This has been very rewarding and has actually renewed my energy and drive.
What I learned about my team
Not that I didn’t know this already but my team is awesome! They have shown their loyalty, their spirit, their inventiveness and their positivity.
We have had weekly Zoom practice meetings to keep everyone in the loop and check in on how everyone is doing. The overall positive team spirit hasn’t left any room for negativity, they have been truly brilliant!
What I learned about my patients
This whole experience has also demonstrated to me how fabulous the vast majority of my patients are! They have been so understanding about the situation. They have been very supportive and so far incredibly loyal.
They have really appreciated the communication we have kept up, so many sent fabulous responses to the newsletter and we’ve had wonderful Facebook messages and comments.
I went for a long walk with my daughter at the weekend and bumped into quite a few patients on the way – from a social distance, of course. We stopped and chatted for some time to each of them. My daughter even remarked, ‘wow mum, everyone seems to love you’.
What I learned about my profession
This is a harder one to answer. Dentists love rules and guidelines and love to examine them, break them down and process them over and over again.
I feel overall, the profession has been let down by the regulating bodies. I feel that advice has been slow to come out and even then, it is not clear-cut and is too grey.
It appears to me that regulators are too scared to make decisions and time is wasted as a result.
We have lacked true leadership in my opinion.
What I learned about myself
This situation has taught me a lot about myself, personally and professionally.
I have discovered I am a far more positive and determined person than I had realised. And far more adaptable and resourceful than I had ever thought. In fact, apart from the initial panic, I have seen this whole situation as a positive experience.
I think I have risen to the challenge far more positively than I thought I would. I’m also a workaholic and can’t deal with boredom. I have been inventive in trying to keep the business prominent and relevant to people.
I have contacted the local pharmacists to let them know we can give out temporary fillings and cements for those who can’t get hold of these. Not just for our patients but anyone needing help and advice. This is not only helping the local community but encouraging patients into our practice.
We had 29 new patients in a week expressing an interest to join our practice when things return to normal. This has also led to very positive word-of-mouth in the town.
Before this all happened, I was planning on extending the practice, I still plan on doing this as soon as possible. I feel, despite a recession and uncertainty, it may be the best time to expand and capitalise on the changes which are undoubtably coming our way.
I also believe that NHS dentistry is not going to be sustainable. This makes it even more important to promote my business and raise our profile if we are going to be best positioned to be the leading practice in our area. Which I very much intend to be.
Louise is the principal dentist and practice owner of Louise Hunter & Associates.
The practice has been established for many years with Louise taking over in May 2003.
Since then it has gone from strength to strength having invested in staff, training and education to bring you the very best in dental health care.
In March 2014, Louise Hunter and Associates were awarded Good Practice membership by The British Dental Association, which is the UK dentistry’s leading quality assurance programme, and have been awarded this every year since.
Louise has also completed the prestigious Tipton Training courses in Dental Implants and Restorative Dentistry.
Jayne Gibson has been a Regional Support Manager at Practice Plan, the UK’s leading provider of practice-branded patient membership plans, for 12 years and has 15 years’ experience in the dental industry. Our team of experienced professionals has supported over 1,500 dental practices to transform the profitability of their business through the combination of a well-populated plan and personalised support including marketing, business advice, events and training. If you’re looking for more from your provider, call 01691 684165 or visit practiceplan.co.uk