The practices I work with fall into two main categories. Firstly, there are those who already have a plan but who want to change provider for some reason, often because they feel a plan isn’t working, which is usually because it needs to be refreshed and the team behind it re-energised.
Secondly, there are practices that want to introduce a plan for the first time. This can be the result of advice from an accountant or outside consultant, but currently I am seeing a lot of NHS and mixed practices that are now thinking of starting a dental plan as a ‘stepping stone’ to full conversion.
In my experience there are five key areas that help determine the success of a dental plan.
1. The right plan at the right price
Irrespective of the individual scenario it is vital to establish whether a practice has the right plan and whether it is priced correctly. I have been into practices in which the dental plan was established 15 years ago but hasn’t been reviewed since. Often new staff have joined and may not have had training or support in relation to offering a dental plan to patients and the pricing has become out of line with fee per item costs leaving the dentist feeling that some patients are incorrectly banded, breeding a sense of dissatisfaction with the plan.
In these cases I draw a line under the past and always ask what an ideal plan looks like for them. The original plan is realigned or we start again from scratch with a brand new plan and new pricing.
Ideally practices should review their plans every two years or so, to take account of the changing needs of the practice and patients. It is also vital that the plan is priced correctly and clearly. It is surprising to find some practices have a dental plan priced in such a way that it is cheaper for patients to continue with fee per item! If the main objective is to encourage patients to attend regularly by joining a dental plan, the plan must be the more attractive option.
I am a firm believer that if the whole team doesn’t ‘buy into’ the plan, they will find it almost impossible to successfully introduce it to patients.
When I carry out training with a practice I always ask the dentist to take part, as their role is very influential. I always ask the team to explain to each other why they think the plan is being introduced or changed and why patients will benefit. This activity helps them to collectively decide which messages will resonate best with their patients.
3. Training and confidence
I am a great advocate of bite-size training, which helps the team to become confident with the nuances of the plan, to know how to deal with objections or difficult questions and to understand their role in introducing the plan.
An example of the value of this training was shown by a practice that was struggling to get more than 200 patients on plan. I did some refresher training with the team to make sure they knew the fundamentals of the plan and that they were comfortable with how to introduce it to patients. However, when I asked which members of the team were responsible for actually talking to patients about the plan, I discovered that each person thought that someone else was doing this job, when in fact nobody was. Having identified the problem we put a clear plan in place by envisaging the patient journey, which helped us establish exactly who should talk about the plan and when. After just four weeks using this new approach plan membership had doubled.
4. Dedicated plan co-ordinator
Not all practices have the resources to accommodate a dedicated plan co-ordinator, but for those that do I always advocate this approach. For these practices we work out at which point it is most sensible to introduce the plan.
One practice invites new patients to attend five minutes before their appointment and this gives the co-ordinator the opportunity to discuss all the available payment options. She then shows the patient around the practice and finally hands the patient personally to the dentist. This signals that all options have been discussed and the dentist is free to recommend the most appropriate plan based on the patient’s clinical needs.
Introducing the plan in this non-clinical environment is often more comfortable for the patient and enables the dentist to recommend the plan from a clinical rather than a financial standpoint. Practices with dedicated plan co-ordinators report on average a 95% conversion rate of patients to plans, and although not all practices can accommodate this facility, many more are now convinced of the benefits of this approach.
5. Visual aids
The value of having a visual aid in the reception area that communicates the cost of plan membership is a great way of communicating its value. For example, one practice placed a hamper in reception full of items that cost the same amount per day as the cost of the plan with a sign explaining this, helping to dispel the myth that dental plans are expensive.
On average the cost of a plan is usually less than £0.60 per day and having a visual aid that communicates this fact to patients in a fun way is proving a very powerful tool.
The strategies outlined above are helpful to practice staff responsible for initiating conversations about dental plans. If the staff have the correct training and are confident and believe in the plan, they are able to translate the benefits to patients and have a much better chance of being successful.
My job is to work closely with the practice team to put in place the most appropriate plan possible and to ensure that once a plan is in place it is working hard for the practice; but it can only do this if it’s the right plan at the right price and the team believes in it.
Like most of us, many dentists tolerate bad service, poor value for money or an under-performing plan because the thought of changing is too stressful. In reality this isn’t the case and dentists changing provider or revitalising their existing plans are pleasantly surprised by how smoothly the process is managed and how a few small changes can make a big difference.
Louise covers Wales, the Midlands, and the south west of England and is available to visit any practice interested in introducing or refreshing a dental plan. For more information contact DPAS Dental Plans on 01747 870910 or email [email protected].