‘Dentists increasingly see themselves as a business’

I tend to find myself at my most productive in the first two hours after getting in to work, and I wouldn’t try to get a sensible answer out of me after 5.00pm. Fortunately, I haven’t any home commitments first thing, so this lets me make a quick escape.

I’m in the office just after 7.30am, or 8.30am if I go to the gym in Winchester first. I tend to use this early part of the morning to get any paperwork sorted and prepare for anything I’ve got coming up over the next couple of days.

A lot of my activity is determined by what we’re doing as a company at any particular time. Sometimes that might be based around developing a new product or service, or on how we can improve our services or take more of our activities online. Or, sometimes, it’s just about keeping up to date with what is happening in the myriad areas dentistry covers.

I’d like to think Denplan is considered one of the genuinely innovative companies working within the profession; indeed, we started the whole concept of the dental payment plan industry.
One of the great things about working with Denplan is that we never seem to run out of ideas – some of them are gained from talking to customers, some of them generated by people asking the ‘How can we do this better?’ question! I don’t believe any company or industry can have a monopoly on good ideas and, therefore, I fully support stealing good ideas from wherever we see them – and implementing them in a Denplan-way.

The only ‘routine’ I have is that I spend a fair amount of time out of the office – I think it’s healthy to get out to meet customers. If we have evening events with dentists, which we do on a regular basis, I’m certainly not one of those left at the bar at 3.00am – but, fortunately, I have colleagues who are much better at this than me.

On a normal day, I would probably have four to five meetings. Some of these will be update times with my senior team, some will be internal meetings about what we’re working on, and some will be more strategic/planning meetings looking at what we want to do in the future.
When I’m in the office I generally try to take a lunch break. I think that it’s very important to get out of the office and let my brain ‘recover’ from all of the information with which it’s been assaulted over the morning. I’ve also got to have my daily fix of Starbucks coffee – to which I think I might be mildly addicted – and so this means I have to take a 15-minute walk into Winchester.

Big picture
I’m generally someone who is more comfortable with thinking about the big picture, rather than being a person who is good with detail. That said, I have some days that are very much about the details, but then I know that I’ll get some blue sky balance coming up to compensate for that.

[At the Denplan National Conference in September, Steve talked about the challenges facing Denplan as a business with increased access and investment in NHS dentistry. Does he believe it will be a challenge – or is Denplan a tried and tested part of the dental world for so many?]

I think that the most important thing about any impending challenge is to be aware of it in advance and take steps to counteract it in the present, rather than simply waiting for it to be ‘visited’ on you.

I believe that there will be a small number of dentists who have considered themselves ‘successful’ private dentists with a loyal patient base who will find, if NHS access improves in their area, that their patients’ loyalty was only based on a lack of alternative availability.

My challenge is to make sure that this type of situation doesn’t apply to Denplan members and that dentists are taking actions now to ensure they truly secure the long-term loyalty of their patients and that they are providing outstanding value for money, a focus on preventive dentistry and excellent customer service.

I was talking to a dentist recently who acknowledged the benefit he got from the regular reviews he had with his Denplan key client consultant. He said that we provide a different perspective for the practice and that we’re the necessary kick up the backside to make sure that he is constantly improving things. I chose to take that positively.

Quickening pace
I think that, for the whole of dentistry, there has been a quickening of the pace of change over the last five years – and Denplan has probably seen more change in dentistry in those five years of my career than the first 10. Some of this has been driven by changes to the NHS – and
dentists deciding that there is a more satisfying means to practice – and so our scale has definitely changed. As an example of this, we’ve had almost one million new patients join in the last five years.

The other change, of which we’ve become much more aware, is that dentists increasingly see themselves as being in business. When I joined Denplan 15 years ago, the idea of a dentist being in business was not one that was widely held within the profession.

As we have seen the size and scale of private dentistry increase so dramatically over the last 10 years, we have seen a huge increase in the number of dentists who see their patients as customers, too, and who accord them the correct service and support as a result.

Any difficulty in the role probably comes by virtue of the variety of the job.
People expect you to be able to hold a view on quite a wide range of topics, and often people are seeking your views on the difficult matters. One of my learning points over the years is that the secret often lies in being able to ask the right questions about a situation, rather than assuming that you can interpret a situation purely based on your own understanding or knowledge.

I usually get home by 6.45pm when I’m not away at Denplan events. I’ll probably be away from home two nights a week across the year, so I do make my best effort to be home in time for the family meal together when I’m working at the office.

In a bizarre way, I probably do enjoy the politics of the dental industry when I think about dentistry in the larger political arena. I think that dentistry, by the nature of its funding, its origins and the contribution that it can make to public health, will always be a political topic and we are involved in a relatively frequent amount of political lobbying with MPs – often correcting their misconceptions about private dentistry.

Pottering around
I’ve got three children at home and therefore a lot of my free time is spent with them – my
weekends are almost sacrosanct from that point of view.

We have a holiday caravan in Devon that we enjoy escaping to on a regular basis (especially as it’s so remote that it doesn’t have a mobile phone signal) and we also enjoy some time pottering around in our 1976 VW Campervan.

I also enjoy music a lot – especially live music – and my wife and I visit as many local gigs as we can. For total relaxation, I also DJ, but only for friends and family!

I would like to say that I am reading some very elevating and erudite books. Unfortunately, I can’t make that claim as I’m reading Plea of insanity by Jilliane Hoffman (a trashy murder book) and The tent, the bucket and me by Emma Kennedy (an absolutely hilarious reminder of camping adventures in the 1970s). If I can actually make it through the evening news then 10.30pm is normally bedtime as I’m knackered by that time.

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