Why a well-populated patient plan could make your practice stronger and more crisis resistant

signing up to a patient planLes Jones explores the loyalty of membership plan patients during lockdown and shares tips on how you can build a successful plan in your practice.

As with many other business sectors, the COVID-19 crisis has been devastating for dentistry in the UK. Many practices have been hit hard and it is likely that some may not survive.

However, it has not been the same picture across the board. Without doubt, certain practices have ridden the storm more successfully than others.

Different models of practice

Let’s take a look at different types of practices.

Fully private practices with a fee-per-item or pay-as-you-go model will have been hit particularly hard. As soon as lockdown started, income will literally have fallen off a cliff.

Predominantly NHS practices will have fared better in comparison. Circumstances are slightly different between each country in the UK. But broadly speaking, NHS practices have still been receiving their income. Albeit with the uncertainty that a percentage of that income could be clawed back at some point due to the fact that their overheads and costs will have been lower during lockdown.

Of course, on reopening, NHS practices face another looming threat. How to achieve the required throughout of patients to satisfy their contract. All whilst working within the restrictions and guidelines imposed post COVID-19. Faced with this problem and perhaps a dawning realisation that the majority of their business is reliant upon one customer, it would come as no surprise to see many NHS dentists grasping the nettle and making the move to private practice.

However, the practices that have perhaps felt the least pain through the crisis are predominantly private practices. Particularly those with a well-populated patient plan.

Patients registered on plans have shown great loyalty and patience by, for the most part, sticking with their dentist. In fact, on average, Practice Plan data shows there has only been a 3% cancellation rate during the first three months of lockdown.

As such, those practices with a well-populated plan in place have continued to receive a regular monthly income, softening the impact of the crisis.

‘New normal’ = new relationships

Clearly, this is not something that would (or could) go on indefinitely. But as lockdown rules start to relax and practices begin to reopen, it seems the three-month timeframe was bearable for the vast majority of patients. They will now look to catch up on their regular dental care.

So, the message seems clear. If you’re looking to build a stronger, more crisis-resistant practice, building a well-populated plan is the way forward.

Plus, as we enter the ‘new normal’, change is a given in almost every aspect of our lives. This means patients will be more receptive to a different relationship with their dental practice.

If you’re a fully private practice with a plan in place or an NHS dentist looking to move to private practice, you should talk to a plan provider like Practice Plan (other providers are available). Practice Plan can talk you through the benefits and the process involved.

Building a well-populated plan

If you already have a plan in place and you’re looking to boost your patient numbers post COVID-19, there are some simple steps you can take to achieve your targets. These are common approaches from practices who have successfully built their patient plans. So they are proven to work.

1. Get the team on board

To be able to talk about the plan with confidence, every team member has to understand the benefits. And believe that it is the right way for patients to receive their regular maintenance dental care. That shouldn’t be difficult because those benefits are clear for both the patient and the practice.

For the patient, health is the key message. All the research shows that patients on a plan attend more regularly for their appointments and invest more time in their dental health. As a result, practices can pick up problems and treat them earlier and patients stay dentally fit for longer. There are additional benefits such as a Worldwide Dental Emergency Assistance Scheme (for Practice Plan), discounts on treatments and the ability to spread the cost of care.

For the practice, a regular, dependable income is the key benefit. This helps smooth out the peaks and troughs experienced by many businesses. It provides a degree of certainty that helps practices plan for the future with confidence. In addition, research shows that patients on a plan are more loyal to their dentist, refer more regularly and also opt for higher value treatments more than PAYG patients.

With so many benefits, getting your team on board should not be difficult.

2. Make the plan your default option

Sometimes, dentists and the front desk team can feel uncomfortable talking about the plan to existing patients. They see it as ‘selling’. As we come out of lockdown, there is a perfect window of opportunity to change the way you operate that shifts team members away from the feeling of ‘selling’ to an informing and advising approach.

The simple way to do this is to make your plan the default option. Presenting this to new patients should be easy. It’s simply a matter of explaining that your practice works on a plan basis (for all the reasons listed in point one). Should the patient want to become a member of the practice it would need to be through the patient plan.

For existing patients, the conversation is very similar. But can be positioned that, in response to the COVID-19 crisis and to ensure that the practice has the stability to provide long-term care for all its patients, you are now advising all patients that they need to join the plan to continue receiving their regular maintenance care.

3. Set targets, monitor results and celebrate achievements

It motivates teams more when they have a clear target to work to. When they can see how they are progressing against that target and that there is an incentive for everyone to achieve results.

The practices who are most successful at on boarding patients to their plan set clear targets and make them very visible. Perhaps through charts and reports in the staff area and/or through regular meetings and updates.

And when you achieve those targets, everyone should win; the patients, because they’re getting the best care, the practice, because it’s building a stronger, more profitable business and the team, because there are tangible rewards for building plan numbers, such as bonuses or team treats (that’s for you to decide).

Without a doubt, the dental landscape is changing before our eyes. Now is the time to take control of your own destiny and to build a practice that is capable of responding to and riding out any future crisis. Putting a patient plan at the heart of your practice will help you do just that.

You can find out more about how to grow your plan members by joining a webinar with Les Jones. Matt Hadman, a regional support manager at Practice Plan, and Andrew Jowett, owner of Quay Dental will also join Les.

The webinar, ‘why now is the time to build your plan (and how to do it)’, takes place on Thursday 23 July at 1:15pm – 2pm. It’s free for anyone to attend and is worth 30 minutes of CPD.

Book your place here.

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