Following recent comments in the media about corporate dentistry and after the planned Bupa takeover was announced, Ian Wood speaks out about corporations in dentistry and the benefits they can bring.

In recent weeks readers of this publication, and others, may have seen considerable commentary about the role of corporates in the world of dentistry. While certainly thought-provoking, much of it has been wide of the mark, and fails to appreciate the realities of what is a highly competitive market for all – sole practitioner or high street chain.

There’s a saying pertinent to whatever size of practice or company you run: ‘The main thing is to focus on the main thing’ and at Oasis, the main thing has always been patient care. We understand fully that a clinical care business is not a retail business and you can’t measure success in terms of units sold. Success is providing appropriate and affordable care at a time and location that suits the patient.

Patients or customers?

There is no inconsistency or contradiction in talking about customers as patients or patients as customers. People arrive at our dental practices as customers and are treated by the dental team as patients. In today’s world people expect the best customer service when parting with money, and the best treatment when in the chair. The market research is clear – as is the actual experience of any successful dental practice large or small – dental visitors have a very keen sense of value for money, a desire for ease of access including late night opening, weekend opening, easy booking, friendly staff, and clear treatment plans. That’s customer service.

Once in the surgery, they are patients and everyone involved in their treatment owes them the duty of care common and vital to all healthcare provision, to ensure they receive the best, and most appropriate treatment. Putting patients at the heart of everything we do is not just a mission statement. It underpins everything we do from recruitment through to professional development and ongoing investment in the infrastructure of our practices, such as IT systems and digital radiography.

Strengths and weaknesses

Successful dental practices must now do more than simply provide good dentistry in order to thrive in this highly regulated and competitive market. Disclosure and transparency are vital. We publish our online customer surveys live on the web pages of every Oasis practice, and because patients are also customers, we publish our prices online in a simple and clear way, offer 8am-7pm opening across the country, web-based appointment booking and quality guarantees. We’re not perfect, but we share our strengths and weaknesses with all our existing and future customers. This is not the action of people dealing in a commodity service, but professionals providing a high-value health service, whilst at the same time competing to be the best in a rapidly evolving market.

So, if we care about our patients, do we care also about our dentists? Yes, of course we do. Dentists are the focus of delivering patient care, and we are keen to maintain the long-term tradition of the dentist-patient relationship. That means offering our associates clinical support through our regional clinical support team, subsidising training courses, helping to fund professional development opportunities that allow career progression, and providing a working environment that will enhance associate retention. It is central to the ethos of Oasis that dentists have stayed at the heart of the company. The independent Oasis Dental Care Clinical Board, which has a majority of dentists, has full responsibility for our professional governance programme and has been instrumental in influencing the company’s development.

Equally, we value the rest of the dental team: therapists, hygienists, nurses, extended duties nurses, receptionists, dental technicians and practice managers. The qualities of all these are key to our success. In addition to clinical knowledge, the most fundamental skills we want to develop are around communication.

A clear and attentive consultation by the dentist, hygienist or other professional is vitally important. Most patients can’t judge the quality of treatment but all of them can judge the friendliness of the staff and whether they have been treated with respect. It’s not surprising then, that inadequate communication skills are the main reason Oasis rejects 50% of all applications for clinical roles.

Additionally, concerned about some disappointing aspects of current mutual society discretionary indemnity arrangements, Oasis Dental Care has agreed with the insurance industry to provide its own occurrence-based, non-discretionary professional indemnity. The individual associate policies are backed by a dedicated dentolegal advice line, which enables patient concerns to be resolved in hours or days because of the rapid access to documentation, opinion, and advice. Rapid complaint management keeps costs low allowing the premiums to be significantly cheaper than any other defence provider. We back and support our dentists effectively and efficiently.

Results

So, do dental professionals respond positively to being listened to and invested in? We survey all our people regularly and 97% of our dentists – over 600 responded – say they find their work meaningful and 73% are engaged – John Lewis scores 72% on the same measure, which asks five different questions on commitment and enthusiasm, all of which must be positive to score engaged. I’d be delighted to compare our results with others if that data were available.

Ultimately our approach only succeeds because our proposition meets the needs of both professionals and patients. It is growing because it represents a compelling career path within a well-resourced and modern working environment. There is a lot to think about in running a practice these days with growing regulation, legislation and compliance.

An increasing number of newly qualified dentists through to experienced principals have found Oasis the right place to focus on clinical practice, in a well-managed environment, rather than administrative tasks. These pressures are unlikely to reduce. It is our intention to continue putting the patient first and creating a place where the highest quality dentistry can thrive in an environment relevant to modern day demands. That’s why I work at Oasis.