I’ve just finished one of those meetings with a practice that leaves me feeling completely enthused and energised about working with the dental profession.
Clare, the practice manager, has just been showing me a wonderful thank you card the practice recently received from a very nervous patient who had just completed a treatment plan worth almost £10,000. Clare also told me about the patient that had brought in a bunch of flowers the previous day because he was so delighted with the care he had received.
With such positive feedback, it’s probably no surprise to learn that the number of new patients is up this year compared to last, although what is interesting is that one of the biggest sources of new patients is referrals from the practice team themselves. Quite rightly, Clare has interpreted this as a sign that the morale of the team is pretty good.
All of this has combined to create a financial performance that is, to be frank, exceptionally good in the current climate with turnover up almost 30% and profitability showing a similarly healthy improvement.
It’s also not surprising, given all of the above, that the confidence of the dentists is as high as I’ve known it and a renewed sense of purpose and direction is very apparent. So what is the practice doing? How has all that been achieved? Has the practice syndicate won the lottery and decided to plough it all back into the practice and working environment? Well no, of course not.
Where has success come from?
The truth is that the practice has done more than just read about and listen to the theories on practice management and has, unusually, got on with implementation. Driven in large by Clare, the culture of the practice now combines sensitivity to the needs of patients, with business management controls that are helping with day-to-day decisions about the commercial aspects of running a practice.
So how does that patient sensitivity manifest itself? For new patients, their initial meetings are held with a treatment coordinator where time is taken to properly understand the patient from their views on their oral health to what makes them tick as individuals. Patients who go on to embark on an extensive course of treatment receive follow-up calls the day after each stage of the treatment plans to check how they are feeling. And once the treatment has all been successfully completed, the patient is invited back for a review meeting at which satisfaction with the outcome is confirmed and the patient is surprised with a gift of flowers, champagne or a venture voucher, according to what has been gleaned about the patient’s personality. They are also gently asked about the experience they have just been through and anything they particularly appreciated or would like to have changed.
And what about the management controls? Three years ago, the practice was only just embarking on the introduction of some business measures, starting with recording the number of new patient enquiries by prompt. Now, thanks in part to training from their practice management software provider on the management information reports available from their system, our discussions are informed with stats on conversion rates by source, income generation by marketing activity, average new patient treatment plan value, the financial benefits of tweaking the stock control process, and so on and so on.
Monthly management accounts are now being produced, which include a cashflow forecast for the following six months and the practice is starting the process of creating an outline budget for the next financial year that will take into consideration potential investments in training, equipment, websites and even air conditioning to enhance the comfort of the patients.
This is how it should be done and Clare and the whole team deserve a huge amount of credit for embracing the theory so enthusiastically, comprehensively and effectively.
So let’s go back to that thank you card I mentioned, sent from, what has proved to be, the patient who has paid more to the practice in the last year than any other. In the card the patient says: ‘Thank you for making me laugh and cry but most of all, thank you for making me smile with confidence.’ For many practice owners, the business side of running a dental practice and the caring side seem to be in conflict. This practice is a perfect example of how, with the right team and the right attitude, the two can complement each other perfectly.
Nigel Jones is sales director at Practice Plan, a provider of conversion support and practice-branded dental plans. Nigel first began helping dentists convert from NHS to private care in 1990, the middle of the last recession, continuing such support throughout the majority of his 23 year career. He has added to his understanding of the healthcare market and the Government’s NHS reform programme through his involvement with the independent sector healthcare providers such as Netcare and Virgin Healthcare.
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