Team games

NHSMichelle Hardy discusses independence from the NHS and how best to involve your practice team to make the change a success.

Converting from NHS practice to private can be scary for everyone in the team. But for many practices, once the decision is made, there is no going back and no options that include failure.

In my experience, one of the key elements to a successful change will be what is in the hearts and minds of the team. Specifically, the ability of the team to explain the reasons why and how it will all work to a patient.

So with that in mind, myself and industry leading dental consultant Sheila Scott present five top tips based on conversations with ‘about-to-convert’ practices that will apply in all situations.

1. Involve the team early

How long did it take you to make the decision to convert? And how many hours pouring over your bank statements and spreadsheets? And how many other hours talking to colleagues, and gauging opinions?

Even before you started analysing your current position to assess the potential for a successful conversion, preparation for the change had started in your own head, and that gave you a head start in thinking about how the change will need to be effected. So explaining what you want to do to your team members and expecting them to ‘get it’ immediately is maybe a little unrealistic.

They too will need some thinking time, to process what the conversion will mean for them and their patients, and where there may be some obstacles to overcome. They too will need to have many long discussions and some positive and some negative moments to consider how the change will work.

2. Ask your team for help

The best thing you can do to involve the team will be to set aside time to discuss the potential conversion as a team, well before you even make your final decision. Involve the team in helping to solve potential problems and find easier ways to explain the changes to patients and devise the best patient journey through the change. You just have to ask the team to regard the topic as ‘top secret’ until final decisions are made (and promise punitive sanctions if anyone breaks that rule).

Many heads really do make light work, and one person’s fear or problem area can help you identify what it is you have to sort out before you press the ‘green for go’ button. It can also help team members to feel a level of responsibility for the conversion when they’ve been allowed to help decide many of the ‘hows’ of the process for conversion for themselves.

3. Welcome initial negativity

Just because Maisie on the desk, or Jessie in the decontamination room came up with a long list of reasons why the conversion won’t work, doesn’t mean to say they won’t be able to help out enormously when the time comes. Right now, their opinions really do matter. The fact that they identify some of the problems you have to solve (between you) before you set your procedures and communications in stone is fantastic.

Please welcome the initial problems the team throw back at you – these are essential for great planning and for keeping the initial days at the beginning of your conversion efficient and comfortable.

4. Don’t skimp on talking – or team planning

Put more meetings than you think you need in the appointment book to talk about how the details of the conversion will work. Decide together how appointments and membership plans will be structured, how new fees will be communicated (you should have done your research on the financials and worked out what your fees will be – and these are non-negotiable), and how the verbal and written patient communications will flow through the practice.

Make sure everybody contributes and practises their conversations. Have some fun in this phase. Imagine a patient and walk through their conversation journeys, asking all the difficult questions that the team will have to be great at answering. Decide together, when and what you’ll need in the way of supportive literature/factsheets/letters for patients and build your policies and procedures together so that everyone is on board, and knows what their role is.

5. Keep talking

Even once the process has started, meet regularly, even if only for five minutes. Celebrate successes and learn from the problems everyone will encounter. Readjust your targets if necessary and readjust your procedures and communications. Praise your team for a job done well and ask for their help when you’ve slacked a little.

This is a team game and the team game makes the change work.

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