Swings and roundabouts

Since the start of the year I’ve been travelling the length and breadth of the UK, delivering workshops and listening to clients tell me what’s going on in dentistry.

What’s going on can be read as ‘all doom and gloom’ or as the biggest opportunity in the last 60 years.

The doom and gloom merchants are saying that most NHS practices are:

1. 30% below target on UDAs

2. Facing a cash claw-back of between £45-85,000

3. Trying to work as many hours as possible to reduce the UDA deficit

4. Employing cheap, overseas labour to deliver the dentistry

5. Reducing appointment times for check-ups

6. Opening all hours

7. Working with dispirited or ‘am I bovvered?’ teams

8. Delivering dentistry to unappreciative patients who frequently fail to arrive (at all or on time) and behave badly when they are there

9. There is another PCT-funded NHS practice opening down the road!

10. The fact that the principal is working up to 40 hours a week clinical

11. And trying to run the business in their lunch hour, after hours or late at night and at weekends

12. As well as trying to recruit, train and motivate a team

13. And working in a practice whose goodwill value has collapsed to zero.

Sounds great doesn’t it? I suspect that LDC meetings must be a thriving area for the Samaritans.

A year ago I took on a new client in a full-on NHS practice in a low-income area. The practice was over 50 years old and the manager, along with some other members of staff, had been there for two decades.

The practice manager hated my guts from the moment she set eyes on my Northern visage and attended my workshops unwillingly, often sitting there all day with the proverbial slap-face on her. Recently the practice completed their fourth workshop. They have converted to private and are busy signing up patients into their membership scheme.

The same practice manager said to me she still didn’t like me very much, was against the principle of private dentistry and was by no means a fan of the new contract. That, in my opinion, was the ultimate confirmation – and I hear that she is the record holder in the practice on new patient sign-ups.

So there is a lot of that doom and gloom out there. But what is being said by the more positive practitioners amongst you?

1. Patients are accepting private treatment more willingly then ever before

2. The media have done our job for us;

3. Parents are accepting private treatment options for their children without query

4. The people in our village/town/suburb/city are telling us that they are surprised we didn’t go private sooner and they were expecting it

5. The market for private cosmetic dentistry is booming – £3.5bn per annum in 2005 and that’s expected to be more than £5bn by 2010, plus it’s being purchased by all socio-economic groups

6. We are always surprised by who actually signs up to our membership scheme – some of the people we never expected to are the most willing;

7. The American corporates are coming – at least one Californian dental franchise is now looking for Greenfield sites in the UK

8. The UK corporates are coming – buying into the more remote geographical areas of the country by acquisition

9. The sale value of private practices is increasing

10. Our practice refurbishment is complete and looks fantastic

11. We have had a branding makeover

12. The team are on fire – well-paid, motivated and delivering first-class customer service

13. More and more of our new patients are coming through recommendation

14. I put my prices up again and nobody batted an eyelid.

Not to mention:

15. I’m making enough money to have paid all my taxes, paid for a good living and still have money to spare

16. I’m investing in property because I’ve realised that I’ll never get wealthy as a dentist without bricks and mortar around me

17. I’m enjoying my work

18. I’m taking plenty of time off

19. My well-paid, self-motivated team are running the show for me now.

So, we’re talking about the same marketplace, but vastly different comments. What’s this all about? It’s about:

• Attitude: how you see the bottle – half-full or half-empty

• Skill: how good you are at leadership and management, not just at dentistry

• Knowledge: how much you know about how a good business actually works.

I’m writing this article in the Hilton Hotel, London Bridge, before spending the day with a City dental practice. Last night, whilst enjoying a pre-dinner drink in the Executive Lounge (points make prizes), an elderly male guest walked in (clearly American, dressed in check shirt and jeans). The girl on the desk asked him ‘how was your day?’ and he replied ‘I’ve just had one of the best days of my life.’

Intrigued, my partner Annie turned around and enquired ‘do you mind me asking why today was one of the best of your life?’ He replied: ‘Would you like to know why every day is the best of my life?’

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