Taking the plunge

shutterstock_344995040Gary Anders, managing director of DPAS Dental Plans, offers reassurance to dentists considering a move to private practice.

Whilst the exact number of dentists currently considering an imminent move to the private sector is unclear, it is true to say that the attractiveness of swapping dependency on the NHS for a life in private practice is significantly increasing.

The attractions of private practice are numerous, and many dentists are lured by the prospect of an independence they cannot envisage under the constraints of an NHS contract. The ability to expand one’s clinical provision, spend more time with patients and use materials that are best suited to clinical needs are all tempting reasons to change. However, leaving aside the emotional and ideological factors, what does a change to private practice mean in pure financial terms and how does a practice survive and thrive following a full or partial conversion?

Help and support

In my experience, most dentists would admit that they need help and support when making such a crucial decision, and more importantly, want to be assured that advice and guidance will not only help them through the process, but will also be available as they build a sustainable and successful business.

Financial viability is a vital factor in determining whether a practice has a sustainable future, and the ability to attract new patients and keep existing ones through the conversion process, are fundamental when taking the decision to convert. Cash flow is critical and I have met many dentists who enthusiastically embark on their new venture without properly thinking through how they will juggle their debtors and creditors. Having a tool that helps ease cash-flow concerns can really help a business, particularly in the early days, and a dental plan not only guarantees a level of income each month, but also ensures that revenue is consistent, even during staff holidays or periods of natural slow-down – a matter of huge financial relevance.

Dental plans

Private dentistry is largely concerned with offering bespoke services and treatments to patients and the decision to introduce a dental plan is a strategic part of the conversion. Ensuring the plan is devised in such a way that makes it attractive to patients is important if the plan is to be marketed successfully. We have the expertise and capability to create a dental plan specifically suited to the needs of individual practices, and by using our in-house facilities and the expertise of our external partners we can help develop a practice-branded plan that operates as an integral element in your practice brand.

For many patients the decision about which practice to attend is to some extent driven by the perceived affordability of their dental treatment. In uncertain economic times, paying for ad-hoc visits to the dentist or hygienist is often one of the first things that is put on hold. Providing an affordable dental plan offers a realistic means by which patients can budget for their routine dental care and plays a key role in differentiating one practice from another.

Furthermore, a dental plan also allows for a good level of preventive care to be maintained, which in turn reduces the need for extensive, often costly treatment that can arise from patients failing to maintain a good level of oral health. Communicating this message to patients in a clear and positive manner is a valuable message and can prove highly beneficial to the growth of a private practice, helping as it does, to develop long-term, mutually beneficial relationships. Having a dental plan in place is one thing, but if patients are not made properly aware of its existence and the benefits it offers to them, potential revenue can be lost. Part of our remit is to help guide practices through this process, advising and assisting with communication to both new and existing patients.

Taking control

For many practice owners, a key motivating factor when making the move from the NHS to the private sector is the ability to retain control of the financial and intellectual value built within their business. To make a practice stand out in a competitive market, most private practices understand the need to develop a ‘strong brand’, yet some have found that the credibility of this has been limited by their involvement with national brands that can undermine the distinctive character of their practice. A practice-branded dental plan builds inherent value into a business by developing brand recognition and making patient loyalty quantifiable.

The decision to convert to private practice can be difficult, especially for those who have lived under the shelter of the NHS umbrella for many years. Today, becoming a private practice requires much more than a change of décor and the installation of a fancy coffee machine. Private patients demand high-quality care and time from their dentist, and to succeed you must make sure that every aspect of your practice and the services you provide are the best they can possibly be.

The introduction of a practice-branded dental plan can act as a tool to encourage patients to return for routine appointments. This improves their oral health and benefits the practice in terms of improved cash flow, creating a win-win situation. Having a dental plan administrator that supports your decision to introduce or increase your private provision and help you face the challenges of conversion is an asset that should not be underestimated. With years of experience in successfully helping practices convert, DPAS is ideally placed to provide exactly the right kind of advice and support that will meet the specific needs of your practice.

This is an exciting but unpredictable time in dentistry and as business owners, practitioners need to consider all of the ramifications involved in any decision to convert. For those who decide that the private sector offers an opportunity to expand their service provision, I would encourage them to work with a dental plan provider that fully understands the conversion process. This important decision will take the pressure off the whole team and enable it to maintain focus on the patients and convince them that the move to the private sector is truly in their best interests.

If you’re considering a move to the private sector or have just made the change, call DPAS Dental Plans on 01747 870910 or visit www.dpas.co.uk and find out how we can help you make the most of private practice.

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