Looking back on 2005, it is clear that we have all had to go through far-reaching changes to ready ourselves for the challenges we face in this new year.
Most receptionists we have spoken to tell us that because of the new PDS contracts their practices are withdrawing their commitment to the NHS. Having decided not to accept a contract, they have informed patients of their new terms of business and begun working under the new regime.
Informing NHS patients of such decisions can be stressful for everyone in the practice, particularly receptionists since they often have to bear the brunt of patients’ initial reactions, which can range from dismay to anger. In recent years many practices who have opted out of the NHS have identified a clear sequence of patients’ reactions, these being denial, anger, depression and then reconciliation before reaching the acceptance stage.
Such observations are valuable for practices still planning to make the change. Even though practices decide to withdraw from the NHS only after much soul-searching and consideration of patients’ best interests and the viability of the practice, we have not heard of any patients viewing this withdrawal as wholly reasonable and justified. We do hear, however, about the unfavourable reactions to this move that can make working on the front desk so stressful.
As a cautionary tale, research in 2005 into the helpfulness of retail staff found that customers think shop assistants are becoming less helpful, while staff said customers are becoming ruder and more demanding. This suggests a downward spiral in customer relations which, unless we are careful, could happen in dental practices.
So when practices change their terms of service, it is essential to ensure patients understand that the changes will bring added value. This process begins with the aspects of care that patients really understand, such as consideration of their comfort and practical needs. And, with a structured patient education programme, it can go on to show the benefits of the greater clinical freedom afforded by removing NHS constraints.
Last November, Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt told GPs to extend their surgery hours to fit in with patients’ working patterns. Yet many dental practices already offer appointments early in the morning and late at night And demand from our patients for this flexibility will grow as their perception as consumers grows. So it is important to keep a dialogue open to ensure we are aware of changing perceptions and can therefore respond appropriately.
Receptionists play a pivotal role in developing the service aspects of dental care. And their role is going through a major change, as the traditional nurse-receptionist is replaced by one who has been recruited for their customer care and administrative skills.
This comes with new training needs to enable these new, non-dental receptionists to work efficiently on the front desk. Their training must cover a basic knowledge of surgery procedures, charting an awareness of the needs of their team colleagues. In return (since their previous dental experiences will have been as patients), they will have an enormous amount to contribute to the team as patient advocates and will have a real understanding of patients’ perspectives.
We are asking receptionists to be proactive in developing their new role, and it is this that will be the focus of the BDRA 2006 Annual Conference in Blackpool on 4 March. If you want to play a part in shaping this vital team role, join us at the conference and have your say. To join the BDRA, or to attend our conference and see what we are doing, call us on 0870 081924 or visit our website: www.bdra.org.uk
The BDRA has always been aware of the need to identify the broadest possible range of training opportunities, such as workshops, home learning and in-house training, for the whole team. In many cases we have negotiated discounts for members and our website has links to the training providers.