Articles, Dentistry

Profitable private practice

Preventive dentistry is an entire approach to patient care. Its purpose is to promote and maintain oral health. With a significant amount of turbulence on the cards for NHS dental care, is now the perfect time to consider private options?

All or nothing

It’s interesting to note the intention of introducing a new NHS dental contract based on registration, capitation and quality, with a focus on preventive care. This is a system that payment plan specialists, such as Denplan, have been operating for more than a quarter of a century, with a rich history of helping practices achieve financial stability whilst being able to truly focus on helping patients.

A full transition to private practice can feel daunting, so it’s important to look closely at the problems you currently face and the options available. What is it you want to achieve; which provider will offer you the best support; and do its values mirror your own? Once you have the answers you can see whether going private is the way to go or whether a partial transition is the best option.

You can undertake a principal only transition where NHS obligations are delivered by associates in the practice, and the principal focuses on private patients. As a result, the principal gains freedom from UDA (units of dental activity) targets and can benefit from the additional time with patients. The practice also benefits from increased revenue whilst retaining its NHS contract and offering patients a greater degree of choice.

Communication

To be a good business proposition the preventive approach must appeal to an adequate number of patients. This can be easier said than done when prevention is something that patients have to take responsibility for themselves.

By looking at things from a patient’s perspective you can communicate the benefits more effectively. Who, for example, doesn’t like to eat, speak and socialise? I think you’ll agree that good oral health is quite an appealing prospect from anyone’s perspective.

Offering a payment plan to patients wishing to benefit from private care can increase the practice’s regular income, while providing a way for patients to budget for dental care. It also generates loyalty and can be the difference between attendance and cancellations. 

Affordability

It has to be accepted that some cases will still require a more ‘traditional’ and invasive approach, but favouring options that preserve natural tissue will be far more preferable to patients once explained, building trust, and increasing patient retention. 

The statistics we have at Denplan suggest a comprehensive preventive service will cost the average private patient around £250 per annum, depending on the hourly rates of the practice and the oral health status of the patient. This equates to an average of just over £20 per month. When you communicate that, for many people this is less than they would spend on coffee. Patients may feel that setting money aside on a regular basis for oral healthcare is a price worth paying! With comprehensive payment plans available, such as those offered by Denplan, budgeting for private dental care has never been easier, while you receive a guaranteed income.

This only leaves the question of adequate funding. That’s why it’s worth reminding ourselves what patients pay for, so that they can receive an effective approach.

The elements of preventive practice

  • Full patient assessment: the cornerstone for effective preventive dentistry is full patient assessment and regular review. The assessments will need to include an appraisal of current oral health status and each patient’s risk status for future oral disease. As a very general rule most preventive practices would reserve between 20 and 30 minutes for full patient assessments and between 10 and 20 minutes for oral health reviews. Your own practice’s hourly rate will allow you to calculate fees needed to fund these visits
  • Home care advice: for effective preventive care, time needs to be spent counselling. These visits will need to be handled by team members who are skilled at communication. The time needed will depend on the patient and may vary from a couple of minutes, through to many visits with a high risk patient, and the cost will therefore vary too. Obviously, this element of care can be provided by hygienists, therapists or specially trained dental nurses, meaning the patient perceives better value for money and team members enjoy greater job satisfaction too
  • Professional interventions: as we are all aware, professional interventions range from treatments such as the application of fluoride varnish, through to non surgical periodontal treatment to elaborate restorative dentistry, which must be provided by a dentist. Delegation can again give patients greater value for money and team members improved job satisfaction.

Whether you measure your practice’s success through the retention of your dental team, job satisfaction, the loyalty of your patients, or through basic ‘brass tax’, it seems clear that preventive practice is a sound business proposition when communicated effectively and something that can continue your practice success long into the future.

Mike Busby was a principal in a practice in Buckinghamshire from 1976 until 2006. Mike has worked as an adviser to Denplan since 1990, delivering training courses, with an emphasis on the leadership, management and governance of dental practices.

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