Private care – all or nothing?

GambleHenry Clover from Denplan reveals how moving towards a private practice does not have to be an ‘all or nothing’ change and looks at some of the private options out there that can allow dental practices to retain their NHS contract.

I think it’s fair to say that, in these uncertain financial times, a full transition to private practice will leave many principals feeling a little weak at the knees. Why should you, after all, leave the relative, or perceived, security of the NHS and put in place entirely new funding options for your patients?

The good news is that these days the transition to private practice is not an ‘all or nothing’ choice and there are plenty of options available. The overwhelming majority of Denplan practices, for example, offer a mixed service of both NHS and private care and we’re able to guide them through the process one step at a time. With so much change on the horizon once again with the NHS, it makes good business sense to look at the available options and the ways in which you can secure your practice’s success long into the future.

Why go private now?

The current target-driven approach favoured by the NHS is believed by many to be at odds with the patient-focused approach that is at the foundation of professional training. This was cited by many as one of the main reasons for practices moving away from the NHS when the last new NHS contract was introduced in 2006. However, the Department of Health seems to have learned from these experiences and the piloting of new approaches to fund NHS dental care is well under way, although the confirmed details of such a new contract remain unknown.

The next iteration of the NHS contract does, therefore, need to learn and build from its past experiences, but it does so against a predicted future of flat healthcare spending and further budgetary constraints. It will also be at least another year before the evaluation of the NHS pilot outcomes is sufficient to inform a new contract. And, with a general election in May 2015, it would seem that the coalition’s commitment to introduce a new contract before then may be a tall order.

That said, 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 and developing for more than a quarter of a century, with a rich history of helping practices achieve and sustain financial stability, while being able to truly focus on helping patients to achieve optimal oral health.

With such a significant amount of turbulence inevitably on the cards for NHS dental care, is now the perfect time to consider private options and start securing your practice income and future success?

What options are available?

A full transition can often feel like a daunting prospect, so it’s important to look closely at the problems you currently face in your practice and what options are available to you. What is it specifically that you want to achieve or change as a result of offering private care; which provider will offer you the best support; and do its values and aspirations mirror your own? Once you have the answers to these questions you can see whether a full or partial transfer or slower transition to offering private care is the best option for you.

You can, for example, undertake a principal only transition, whereby the NHS contractual obligations are delivered by associates within 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 spent with patients. The practice also benefits from increased revenue while retaining its NHS contract and offering patients a greater degree of choice.

How can a payment plan help?

Offering a dental payment plan to patients wishing to benefit from private care can increase the practice’s stable, regular income, while providing a way for patients to budget for their dental care. It’s not uncommon to assume that patients will be unwilling or unable to afford such a service, but Denplan’s own research, undertaken by Yougov, has indicated that 15% of regular attenders without a payment or cash plan, and over 23% of private fee-per-item patients would consider buying a payment plan to help them budget for their dental care and treatment. Those who would consider buying a dental payment plan also said they would be willing to pay around £14.90 per month for it.

Providing your patients with a range of options to pay for their treatment ensures their loyalty and can mean the difference between attendance and a depleted appointment book due to cancellations or postponed treatment in the current financial climate. It can also help you to differentiate yourself from the competition, increasing the success of your practice. Some payment plan specialists can also provide a wide range of value added services worth thousands of pounds as part of your membership and can provide the help and advice you need to ensure that, whatever your individual goals and aspirations may be, the transition runs smoothly and is as stress free as possible. This allows you to get back to the kind of dentistry you trained to deliver without worrying about the future. It sounds simple, and in the right circumstances, it can be.

References

Denplan/Yougov survey, January 2013 – total sample size was 4,116 adults surveyed online. Figures have been weighted and are prepresentitive of all UK adults (aged 18+).

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