Practice Plan’s, Zoe Close, shares her thoughts on what dentists need to consider when making the move away from the NHS…
If you are one of those considering gaining greater independence from the NHS, you might also be thinking: Is now the right time to go private?
Of course, the individual circumstances of your practice will affect when and how is best to make this kind of change.
However, the general situation that dentistry now finds itself means there has probably never been a better time to seriously consider moving to private.
There are lots of opportunities for private dentistry right now. Many independent practices are reporting huge numbers of new patient enquiries, as well as a boom in enquiries for, and uptake of, cosmetic treatments such as tooth straightening.
Many of those opportunities stem from the difficulty patients are having in trying to access NHS dentistry – an issue that is unlikely to disappear any time soon.
Plus, being unable to attend a dental practice during the first lockdown made many patients realise how much value they place on being able to see their chosen dentist.
If you add to that the sense that we have all had to become much more adept at dealing with changes throughout the past 18 months, and many of us are taking a more active interest in our general health, you might just find patients more accepting of any changes you make.
Of course, many in the NHS have been pleasantly surprised by the support they received for their NHS work. But while that was understandably welcome, there remain questions around the future funding and contractual arrangements that may leave some feeling uncertain of what lies ahead.
And many may be feeling that the support they received, while much needed, does not outweigh the constraints of essentially working for one customer, the NHS, and the vulnerable position that can put you in, particularly when it comes to controlling the future of the practice. These feelings have left many contemplating a future outside of the NHS and considering a more balanced working life within private dentistry.
A good place to start is by taking the time to reflect, not just on the last 18 months but more generally on what kind of future you want to have, what kind of business you want to run and, finally, how much control you want to have over that destiny.
That will help you to figure out if you initially want to dip your toe into the water by becoming a practice that offers a mix of both NHS and private treatments (perhaps with a view to moving fully private at a later date). Or if you’d rather make the full transition straight away.
Whenever you make any kind of change to a business, it’s always important to consider the financial impact and plan accordingly. Therefore, it is also worth considering if you want to move to private dentistry with the benefit of a membership plan for patients.
Establishing a strong and well-populated plan can help to replace the regular income you receive from the NHS. A good membership plan can help to make the process easier for the business – by providing guaranteed monthly income that can help you to plan ahead and help you to build a list of motivated, loyal patients.
It can also make the process smoother for patients. Many practices feel that moving from the NHS to private with a plan is easier for patients to accept, compared to pay-as-you-go, as patients switch from paying NHS fees to paying a small monthly cost, rather than any bigger lump sums.
Plus, patients on a plan are more likely to attend their appointments and take more of an interest in their oral health, which is then more likely to improve. All of which also means there is less white space in the diary.
If you decide to go completely private and introduce a plan, there is another consideration to think about as well: whether you want to become a membership-only practice. Running your practice exclusively on a membership basis can only enhance all the benefits of being on a plan mentioned above.
There is no one size fits all when it comes to moving from the NHS and into private dentistry. Every practice is different, and so each journey is unique and depends on a range of factors such as how long you have been seeing your patients, what other practices in the area are offering, the demographic of your local area, etc.
Becoming a private practice involves taking into account all of these factors and creating a well-thought-out plan that navigates through them successfully.
Working with a good plan provider means you can receive support from the outset as they will be able to do a viability review and financial analysis of the business, put together a communications plan for patients (a vitally important step), create flexible plans that support your vision and provide ongoing support and guidance once you are up and running.
While the last 18 months was, to say the least, difficult, it has created a situation in which you now have the opportunity to choose a future you really want. If that future involves moving to private, a membership plan can make the transition smoother and provide a welcome source of support, not just financially.
Zoe Close is Head of Sales at Practice Plan, the leading provider of practice-branded dental plans. Zoe has 30 years’ experience in the dental sector, including Group Business Manager for a corporate group, dental nurse, head receptionist and practice manager.