The grass isn’t always greener

splitSarah Hodgson, practice principal at Greenwood Dental Practice in Altrincham, Cheshire, discusses changing payment plan provider and how the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

I run a three-surgery practice in Cheshire, with four dentists on the team, two of which work on a part-time basis. When I opened the practice in 2000, my vision was to provide unparalleled patient care and state-of-the-art dentistry in a relaxed, relatively informal way. We have a strong focus on preventive care and cosmetic treatments, as I believe that everyone should be able to smile with confidence. I treat my adult patients privately, but I still treat children on the NHS.

Back in 2006 I converted the practice to Denplan as a result of the new NHS contract, which didn’t suit my business ethos at all. But in 2008 the economic climate took a turn for the worst and we plunged straight into a recession. To make things worse, two NHS practices opened up in the area and I was losing patients faster then I could recruit them. So what could I do?

Is cheaper better?

The recession was having a big impact on my PFPI (private fee-per-item) patients as well, as they were just not coming regularly enough and were far more selective about treatment options when they did. I had to start looking at ways to save money and hopefully increase the practice income. We were offered lower administration rates by another payment plan provider, so we decided to move and transfer our patients.

The new provider advised us that our existing fees were too high and we needed to reduce these in order to attract more patients to a maintenance plan. We were advised that this would, in fact, increase the number of private patients and subsequently the secure monthly income we so desperately needed.

The whole process was far from seamless. The initial conversion went smoothly, but the support we had from the payment plan provider was non-existent. Once the agreement was made I think we saw a representative once or twice, but were really just left to it. The initial training was for an hour and that was just to show us how to fill in the registration forms. We never saw a rep again after this and there was no feeling of support or that we were being looked after in any way, so it was really disappointing.

The whole transition process was also extremely stressful for the team, as all the patients had to physically attend the practice to complete a new application form and to complete new direct debits. This was not only an inconvenience to the patients at a time when we really needed to keep them happy, but when we did contact the provider, no one seemed to know what was going on. The auditing of the whole conversion was left to us.

About turn

With no ongoing support and a further decline in income as a result of the reduced fees, we decided to return to Denplan and it’s probably the best thing we could have done. Our consultant, Kerry, was fabulous and the team at Denplan helped us every step of the way. We had weekly visits from Kerry during the initial stages and she still comes round every few weeks to motivate us all and breathe new life into us with her enthusiasm and knowledge.

Going back was also completely stress-free as patients had the option of phoning Denplan to register, doing it online, or coming into the practice – where we were able to use the online registration process, which is quick and easy. The registration team at Denplan then phoned or emailed us on a daily, then weekly basis to inform us of all the new registrations and our progress so far.

Looking forward

I am happy to say that nearly all our payment plan patients are now re-registered with Denplan and our numbers are starting to grow – along with our income. We still have a long way to go but, in hindsight, I believe that the patients we lost to the NHS were inevitable given the economic environment. Our payment plan patients value the regular monthly bills to help them budget and the security of the Dental Accident and Emergency Insurance, should they need it – so being with a recognised, national brand also helps put their mind at ease.

Furthermore, we have ongoing training with the team at Denplan, which helps us continue to develop and improve our products and services where possible. Kerry is always here to help us with marketing support, ideas on where to direct the practice in the future and generally just being one of the team. I wish she could work here full-time and the support she gives us is really invaluable – so the fact that we get it as part of our membership is wonderful.

If you’re wondering how to help your practice grow and survive some truly tough times, I would definitely recommend working with Denplan and taking advantage of the expertise and guidance it can offer, rather than looking for greener grass somewhere else.

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