Is 2021 the right time to go private?

private practiceZoe Close sheds light on what you need to consider when it comes to private dentistry.

The idea of setting a new goal or resolution for 2021 may have taken on extra significance for many of us after what we’ve been through in 2020.

Living and working through the pandemic has led many to take a step back. Many have re-evaluated what kind of life they want to have.

Of course, our career is a massive part of our life. So, this undoubtedly has implications for how we want to spend our time in work.

If you have an NHS contract, this experience may have led you to reconsider whether you want to remain in the system. On the other hand you may introduce some private dentistry, or even move fully private.

Rethinking the future post-pandemic

We have heard from dentists who felt that the lack of guidance or information given by the authorities at the start of the outbreak was the final tipping point in making this decision.

Others have said that having the chance to slow down the way they work gave them the chance to experience something akin to how it might be if they moved to private dentistry, and the thought of returning to the NHS ‘treadmill’, especially while there are still restrictions and PPE requirements, wasn’t an attractive option.

If you are one of those considering gaining greater independence from the NHS, you might also be thinking: is 2021 the right time to go private?

Of course, the individual circumstances of your practice will affect when and how is best to make this kind of change.

However, the general situation that dentistry now finds itself means there has probably never been a better time to seriously consider moving to private.

There are lots of opportunities for private dentistry right now. Many independent practices are reporting huge numbers of new patient enquiries, as well as a boom in enquiries for, and uptake of, cosmetic treatments such as tooth straightening.

Patient demand versus supply

Many of those opportunities stem from the difficulty patients are having in trying to access NHS dentistry – an issue that is unlikely to disappear any time soon.

Even with a vaccine, restrictions are likely to remain in place for a long time. It’s unrealistic to expect that dentistry will receive any more funding from a government that is dealing with the economic and social impact of the pandemic. This means that the demand for dentistry is likely to keep outstripping supply for some time.

Plus, being unable to attend a dental practice during the first lockdown made many patients realise how much value they place on being able to see their chosen dentist.

If you add to that the sense that we have all had to become much more adept at dealing with changes throughout the past nine months. Additionally many of us are taking a more active interest in our general health. You might just find patients more accepting of any changes you make.

Of course, many in the NHS have been pleasantly surprised by the support they received for their NHS work. But while that was understandably welcome, there remain questions around the future funding and contractual arrangements that may leave some feeling uncertain of what lies ahead.

And many may be feeling that the support they received, while very welcome, does not outweigh the constraints of essentially working for one customer, the NHS, and the vulnerable position that can put you in, particularly when it comes to controlling the future of the practice. With that in mind, we look at your other options and how to help them come to fruition.

How to transition to private dentistry

A good place to start is by taking the time to reflect. Not just on 2020 but also more generally on what kind of future you want to have. What kind of business you want to run and, finally, how much control you want to have over that destiny.

That will help you to figure out if you initially want to dip your toe into the water. You could be a practice that offers a mix of both NHS and private treatments (perhaps with a view to moving fully private at a later date). Or if you’d rather make the full transition straightaway.

Whenever you make any kind of change to a business, you must consider the financial impact and plan accordingly. Therefore, it is also worth considering if you want to move to private dentistry with the benefit of a membership plan for patients.

Establishing a strong and well-populated plan can help to replace the regular income you receive from the NHS. A good membership plan can help to make the process easier for the business – by providing guaranteed monthly income that can help you to plan ahead and help you to build a list of motivated, loyal patients.

It can also make the process smoother for patients. Many practices feel that moving from the NHS to private with a plan is easier for patients to accept. Compared to pay-as-you-go, as patients switch from paying NHS fees to paying a small monthly cost, rather than any bigger lump sums. 

Plus, patients on a plan are more likely to attend their appointments. They will take more of an interest in their oral health, which is then more likely to improve. All of which also means there is less white space in the diary.

If you decide to go completely private and introduce a plan, there is another consideration to think about as well. Whether you want to become a membership-only practice. Running your practice exclusively on a membership basis can enhance all the benefits of being on a plan mentioned above.

Financial and business support

There is no correct path to moving from the NHS and into private dentistry. Every practice is different. Each journey is unique and depends on a range of factors. For example, how long you have been seeing your patients. Also, what other practices in the area are offering and the demographic of your local area etc.

Becoming a private practice involves taking into account all of these factors. You need to create a well-thought-out plan that navigates through them successfully.

Working with a good plan provider means you can receive support from start to finish of this process. It will enable you to do a viability review and financial analysis of the business. Also, put together a communications plan for patients (a vitally important step). Lastly, it will create flexible plans that support your vision and provide ongoing support and guidance once you are up and running.

Last year was, to say the least, difficult. However, it has created a situation in which you now have the opportunity to choose a future you really want. If that future involves moving to private, a membership plan can make the transition smoother. It can provide a welcome source of support, not just financially. 

This article first appeared in Dentistry magazine. You can read the latest issue here.

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