The importance of communication during a transition from NHS to private practice

Illustration_201365471Les Jones explores why communication is key to a successful conversion when moving from NHS to private dentistry.

The benefits of a successful private practice are well documented – greater control, opportunities to increase income, and also to develop and offer a wider range of treatments.

And for those dentists who are thinking that the proposed NHS contract reforms will increase their administrative burden and limit their scope for increasing income, this is a time when many will make the decision to make the move away from the NHS to private dentistry.

For most in this position, whilst exploring their options, two important questions are likely to surface.

If I go private…

  • …how will it affect my team – will they get on board?
  • …how will my patients react – will enough of them stay with me?

In each of these two scenarios, carefully planned and effective communication is key to a successful outcome. So let’s explore how to go about communicating to:

Your team

The introduction of change into any working environment will inevitably lead to some caution and wariness on behalf of employees and if not handled correctly it can lead to resistance.

The best way to ensure that all members of the team are on board is to communicate the ‘why’ of the proposed changes as well as the ‘what’ and the ‘how’.

It is important to talk to the team as a whole and run through all the drivers behind the change and what benefits it will bring to the practice as a whole and to them individually.

Start with the big picture and let the smaller details follow. Create and communicate a clear and positive vision of what life as a private practice will be like.

Ensure you explain how everyone has an important role to play in making it a reality, encouraging your team to be excited about where your practice is heading rather than bogged down with the particulars of how you will get there.

Once your team has bought into the bigger picture and understands your rationale, you will then be in a better position to fill in the finer details of the journey you will undertake together. Part of which will be how you all communicate the change to the patients.

Your patients

The first thing to be prepared for is that some patients will still want to continue receiving NHS dentistry and will exercise their right to move to another dentist or practice.

This is natural. However, it is offset by those patients who choose to remain with you on a private basis who, on average, will generate more income than an NHS patient would have.

That said, you will want to mitigate any unnecessary loss and encourage as many NHS patients to make the move to private care as possible. So careful planning is key.

A good option would be to write a letter to each of your patients as a prelude to personal one-to-one conversations.

Within your letter it is important that you concentrate on two main areas and then be clear on the next steps.

Your professional drivers

Clearly explain the professional reasons behind your decision; these might include a desire to spend more time with patients, to provide an enhanced service or to offer a wider range of treatments.

The benefits to the patient

Most practices, when making the move to private dentistry, choose to introduce a patient membership plan as a means of replacing a proportion of the regular income they receive from the NHS. A plan provides a perfect platform for communicating the positive benefits of the move to patients.

Firstly, it encourages the patients to attend regularly whilst also allowing them to spread the cost of their private ‘maintenance’ care via a simple monthly direct debit. Secondly, membership will also provide them with a discount against the cost of paying as they go and further discounts on additional treatments.

Most membership plans also come with an insurance element that provides worldwide cover to the patient in the event of a dental trauma or emergency.

So, there are many benefits to communicate to your patient base.

Next steps

Be clear on what the next steps are – what you would like the patient to do, or what they can expect to happen when they next visit the practice.

Before you send out any letters to your patients, it is essential that your team are fully briefed and well prepared to deal with any questions that may arise.

A patient may wish to ask questions and seek further information from any team member and, whoever they choose, that person will have a vital role in positively explaining the changes and then guiding the patient through the process of becoming a private patient.

If you have decided to introduce a patient membership plan, your provider should be able to deliver training to all of your team on the right messages to convey and a clear process for signing patients up to the plan.

This can be backed up by the provision of a simple piece of literature that introduces the features and benefits of the patient membership plan.

Private practice offers many exciting opportunities to dentists who are currently frustrated by the limitations and bureaucracy they feel in delivering against an NHS contract.

Of course, for many it is a big step to make, but with careful planning and effective communication, the route to a successful conversion can be smooth and pain free.

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