During my 30 years in the dental profession, including many years working in both private and NHS practices, I would say that the challenges facing private practices have remained largely unchanged. Perhaps with the exceptions of the CQC with more rigorous regulation and compliance, managing NHS contracts and ensuring delivery of UDAs, and the increasing competitiveness in the private market – particularly since the last dental contract reform in 2006.
Below, are three of the top concerns that I hear a lot from dental teams, many of which are familiar from my time working in practice:
Creating a stable income – Having all or the majority of your patients on a pay-as-you-go basis gives you little security over how much money will be coming into the practice each month. This makes it that much harder to plan for the future. With a guaranteed monthly income, such as you receive with patients on a membership plan, you can remove the guesswork from predicting your earnings for the coming year.
Historic accounting can paint a general picture, but it is nowhere near as accurate in measuring your cash flow as monthly Direct Debits. Knowing you have a set income each month means you know you can afford improvements such as waiting room refurbishments or new signage. A regular income can also help you when it comes to securing financial support or loans to build the business.
Staying compliant – My time in practice was largely before the CQC became involved with regulation and inspections, but the challenge of maintaining compliance is something I hear regularly from dental teams. It is an area that needs thinking about every day, which adds to the workload of practice staff, as you need to ensure everyone understands all the policies and procedures and is adhering to them. That way, when there is an inspection you can be confident that knowledge is embedded in the team.
I often hear people say ‘I do compliance on a Friday’, but it needs to be a constant focus throughout the week if you want to be sure your staff are able to answer an inspector’s questions should they come calling. There are some great software toolkits available to help practices manage their compliance and we often facilitate audits with specialist consultants which practices find useful for highlighting any gaps or just as reassurance that they are on the right track.
Managing expectations – Rightly or wrongly, patients expect a higher level of service in private practice, and while they may not necessarily be able to judge your clinical skills, they can – and probably will – judge your customer service skills. Therefore, you need to pay extra attention to ensuring you don’t just provide quality treatment but that the patient receives a positive experience that makes them feel special from the moment they enter the door, and that any complaints are managed responsively.
Meeting, and exceeding, your patients’ expectations is made easier if you have the right team in place and are recruiting the right staff both in terms of qualifications and chairside manner. If you’re struggling to attract the right type of candidate, it can be worthwhile speaking to specialist consultants who can support you to build the right team for your practice.
These are just three of the many challenges practices face on a day-to-day basis and while there is no simple pill that can make them disappear, there is specialist support that can help you tackle them head-on.