How best to communicate with your patients when moving to private practice

Practice PlanNigel Jones, sales director at Practice Plan, explains how to get your patient communications right when converting to private practice.

Making the decision to leave the NHS will involve an assessment of any risks and developing a strategy to mitigate those risks. Central to such a strategy will be the communications plan to patients, as you will want to maximise your patient retention, even if that means having a waiting list.

Although members of the general public, fuelled by media stereotypes, remain unsure about the dental profession as a whole, their regard for their own dentist remains high, particularly when trust has been able to build up over several years.

However, the loyalty that follows the trust should not be taken for granted with care being taken to communicate your decision to move to private practice in the most appropriate way through a combination of face to face conversations, a personal letter and input from the practice team.

Ideally, you will be able to manage your conversion in a way that allows you to talk to most, if not all, of your patients in person at their routine examinations, as the sincerity of your motivations will be easier to convey face to face. Of course this carries the risk of you over running on your appointment times, so such conversations can be preceded by a letter that helps facilitate your discussions by signalling the change and addressing some of the more commonly asked questions.

Used appropriately, a letter is far from an impersonal approach and allows the patient to use their precious appointment time to focus on the issues of greatest importance to them.

Writing your letter

Take care when drafting the letter to ensure that the reasons for the change are communicated clearly and honestly and in a manner that does not breach the terms of your NHS contract.

Although it very much needs to be your letter written in a style that your patients will recognise as your own, it is always worth picking the brains of any colleagues who have already taken the plunge successfully. It can also be useful to look at a number of examples of letters that have been used by other practices as you may get inspiration for how best to articulate succinctly the reasons for the change and the benefits to patients, as you see them.

However, all the well-crafted letters in the world will struggle if your team are not behind you.

Patients need to hear a clear statement of intent from their dental practitioner but will often ask for the opinions of other team members who they may find more easy to approach.

It is therefore vital that they feel able to answer any patient queries with confidence and clarity.

Letting the team know

In advance of any letters being sent, the whole practice team, regardless of role, should have the chance to gain a full understanding of the reasons for change and to feel part of the decision-making process, particularly in areas that directly affect them.

It can be invaluable to use a team meeting to both secure buy in to your vision for the future of the practice and discuss potential questions or objections from patients along with the best ways of handling them.

Such group discussions can ensure patient queries are addressed without the kind of hesitation that might undermine their belief in the nature of the change.

Of course, different circumstances might demand different approaches and there is not a one-size-fits-all answer. However, what is certain is that proper preparation can only help to maximise the number of patients you retain when taking this significant step.

Practice Plan is a specialist provider of practice-branded patient membership plans and an increasingly significant source of wider business support services for dentistry. So, whether you’re planning a conversion from the NHS, introducing a dental plan into an established practice or looking to change from another plan provider, Practice Plan can help you take your practice where you want it to go.

Over the years, it has helped thousands of dentists introduce membership plans and develop business strategies. Access to regional support managers, customer service advisers and expert marketers as well as dental business consultants and speakers, means a practice will get practical and strategic advice to help them achieve their unique goals.

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