This article first appeared in Dentistry magazine. You can read the latest issue here.
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Sarah Hoggins describes how moving her patients to Denplan has changed her life in practice.
Chester-born dentist Sarah Hoggins graduated from Leeds University in 2005. She went on to do her foundation training at Beech House Dental Practice in Ripon, Yorkshire. As a newcomer, it was down to Sarah to grow her own patient list from scratch. At this time, the list consisted of almost all-NHS practices, with just a handful of Denplan patients.
Around the time Sarah became an associate in 2006, the practice principal, Dr Roger Bromiley, went private. He began to expand his Denplan patient list while Sarah continued to provide NHS care.
‘I was really passionate about NHS dentistry and this suited me at the time,’ says Sarah. ‘The stagnant contract started to feel too limiting and became a problem; I was unable to spend as much time as I wanted to with the patients I had worked hard to develop good relations with. There was little incentive to improve my skills and increase my earning potential. I realised that it wasn’t offering the kind of care that my patients deserved and that I wanted to offer. It also disabled me from progressing personally.’
In 2018, Sarah observed the success of Dr Bromiley’s conversion to Denplan. She decided that it was time to embrace the opportunities and benefits that she felt Denplan could bring to her own situation and to her patients. She pondered a great deal about how to approach such a major change while maintaining her patients’ trust in her.
‘Most of my patients had been with me for many years by this point,’ she explains. ‘I didn’t want to throw them a curveball without the opportunity to talk it through first.’
Sarah drew on the advice of the practice’s Denplan business development consultant, Kenny Fraser, who helped her to plan a softer approach.
‘We sent out a letter to all my patients. It provided information about how them signing up to Denplan would enable me to improve their care moving forward. We also invited them to talk to me about it in person first so that I could reassure them and answer any of their questions.’
All of Sarah’s patients were offered the option of remaining as NHS patients at the practice with another dentist. However an impressive 476 of Sarah’s patients moved onto a Denplan plan over the following 12 months.
‘I anticipated some resistance,’ says Sarah. ‘After all, no one really likes change. However, to my delight, they trusted my judgement. They accepted that it should be seen as a long-term care plan, made much more affordable because they could spread the cost.’
Sarah wanted to share her time between her work and her young son. She calculated that these patient numbers were optimal for her at this point in her life. This allowed her the freedom to work three days a week with a regular income and still provide great care for her patients.
‘There is so much less stress and no time pressure. I can spend an hour shaping a composite to get it absolutely perfect if I need to rather than constantly clock-watching. I’m much happier in my work as a result and I have much better job security.’
As with all practices, the arrival of COVID-19 brought difficulties for Sarah and her colleagues. They shared genuine concerns about the impact lockdown might have on patients.
‘It was very challenging, though we remained open as an emergency hub throughout lockdown. On the positive side, the regular income from Denplan was welcome at a time of great uncertainty.
If any of my Denplan patients called needing advice or urgent treatment I was still able to offer it. I’ve managed to catch up with the backlog of appointments quite quickly.’
Sarah also has nothing but praise for the support she and other Denplan dentists have been receiving. Not only in terms of information updates and advice, but also through training webinars and the availability of a sounding board in the form of her Denplan business development consultant, Kenny.
‘Understandably, a few patients were concerned about their finances and the commitment to monthly fees early on in the pandemic.
‘The Denplan team were amazing. They took on the task of discussing options directly with the patients and very few cancelled their plans in the end. In fact, we’ve since taken on even more Denplan patients as a result of the care we were able to offer.’
Sarah believes that her experience is a good example of how dentists in a similar position could make the transition into private dentistry.
‘Inviting patients to pay monthly but for better overall care is a very positive message. I feel strongly that this choice should be more accessible to more people.
‘With Denplan, the branding is excellent, the name says exactly what it is: a payment plan for quality dental care. The response of my patients shows that they really get what I’ve aimed to achieve by offering them the chance to join.
‘Honestly, I have absolutely no regrets about making this change. I must also give special thanks to all the practice staff and their hard work in making the conversion a success. Especially to Wendy who has worked as a nurse at the practice for many years.
‘I’m looking forward to participating in Denplan’s many social and clinical events to support my continued professional development in the years to come.’