Taking stock – how COVID-19 changed NHS dentistry
Johnny Minford looks at how COVID-19 may have changed NHS dentistry.
Spring is a time of change for all sorts of reasons, not just the turning of the seasons. April marks the start of a new tax year, and a new NHS year. This year also heralds what some of us believe to be the start a major change in NHS dentistry. Even if you are a wholly private dentist, changes in the NHS affect the whole marketplace.
These are changes which are going on around us, our environment. Stop for a moment and consider how you are reacting. How has it changed you? More interestingly, what changes would you actually like to make to what you do, or how you do it? We have had to adapt to circumstances this past year, learning how to use new procedures during COVID-19, such as remote diagnosis, managing fallow time, and focusing staff efficiency.
These lessons can be really positive, helping craft our approach to day-to-day clinical work. Or a new patient journey, or the benefits of building an ‘A’ team and enhancing patient relationships.
If in a mixed practice you may also consider the proportion of NHS work you do. And whether you may take some of the treatments you offer into the independent domain for example, or increase plan exposure. Alternatively you may prefer your practice to seek to embrace the positive aspects of the changes in NHS dentistry. These are undoubtedly coming down the track.
If you are mainly private, there is perhaps greater room for flexibility in considering the way you offer clinical treatments or the extension of plan provision.
Certainly the plan providers have seen a palpable increase in interest in the past twelve months. It should be noted that this is a reflection of patient attitudes as well as of those of the dentists.
We are pleased to have worked with a couple of plan providers recently to help develop financial models for particular practices showing the effect on moving patients onto plan from either FPI or the NHS. Sometimes, this is not the right thing to do. But this is not always obvious until the models are created.
We are also seeing an influx of NHS patients from other practices wanting to be seen privately because they are struggling with appointments at their previous practice. After the initial checks and necessary treatments, bearing in mind that it might have been some considerable time since they had been to the dentist, many are comfortable signing up to a maintenance plan.
Pricing of such new patients is important, and should not be done on the back of an envelope. Misjudging time cost/income is easy. But it’s not always so easy to withdraw from an arrangement whilst keeping the patient’s goodwill.
Many are just as comfortable sticking with Item of service. If this is your practice which is signing up new NHS on to FPI, how are you making them feel different from their previous dental experience, and sending them out as ambassadors for your team?
An awareness of what is happening in your geographical locality should also inform this choice. Whilst ‘bubbles’ exist in COVID-19 terms, they do not exist in patient demography terms. Having a ‘brand’ is not something to which many dentists relate. However, at the same time distinguishing yourself from others helps bring the type of patient or clinical requirements you want to your door.
It is also instrumental in attracting the types of associate or hygienist with whom you are comfortable working. We are privileged to work with many practices. They all, whether they like it or not, have a brand vision. So you might as well have the one that suits your purpose.
We are seeing the beginning of the end of COVID-19 ruling our lives. Whatever the arena or the stage you find yourself in your clinical career, this is the time to step back and consider where you are, and where you’re heading.