Nigel Jones explores the possibilities for maximising practice profits in the future
It’s been a difficult few years in which, according to the 2014 LaingBuisson market report in to dentistry, the value of private dentistry in the UK shrank by 22%. However, driven by a combination of mounting confidence in the economy and things looking set to improve with LaingBuisson forecasting a steady growth in private dentistry of 2.5% per annum over the next five years, the position is starting to look more positive.
Much of that growth will come from the ever-rising interest in cosmetic and aesthetic dentistry with orthodontics looking set to flourish in comparison to less conservative treatment options. The challenge for many practices offering orthodontics will be how to, appropriately and ethically, maximise their share of this growth. This will require some significant thought given the more consumerist approach now taken by patients when selecting a suitable clinician or practice.
Getting information across
Patients will continue to arrive at practices as a result of a number of prompts, including referrals and word-of-mouth recommendations, but this more consumer-like behaviour will increase the relevance of more traditional forms of marketing such as radio, leaflet drops and, of course, Google searches.
However, getting patients to the premises is only part of the story and key to a practice’s success will be the way in which treatment plan options are explored and presented to patients. This means putting some thought in to who among the practice team says what to patients and when – which isn’t always as obvious as it might first appear. For example, the person who is best placed to explain the clinical aspects of the available treatment plans is not necessarily the best person to explore funding options.
Many treatment plans that patients desperately want are not taken up because the patient has not properly understood the information provided or has not had their particular concerns addressed. There can be lots of reasons for this, including a lack of time to have a proper two-way conversation in which the patient feels sufficiently at ease to be able to discuss openly their thoughts and fears about the options available.
Taking the time with the whole practice team to map out the contacts a patient experiences from when they first enter the practice for an appointment to making a decision to proceed with treatment can be very revealing, especially when an effort is made to view these contacts and potential uptake barriers from the perspective of a nervous non-clinician. Interactions that are sensitive to the feelings of the patient will maximise the chance of discovering a misunderstanding over a particular treatment that, once out in the open, can be addressed.
Often, the barrier to taking up a treatment plan is the cost and patients can be reluctant to reveal this for fear of embarrassment. Again, creating the right level of rapport between the patient and an appropriate member of the practice team, can then pave the way for a discussion about ways of making the treatment plan more affordable through alternative methods of payment such as interest-free credit.
Against a backdrop of negative headlines referencing the credit crunch, it may come as a surprise to some that the use of interest-free credit in dentistry grew steadily during the economic turmoil of the last few years. Whatever the reasons, patient finance in some form has now established itself as an essential tool used by an ever-growing number of practices to help with driving forward treatment plan acceptance rates.
One important new consideration is the new regulatory regime around patient finace from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). Gone are the days of simply applying for a licence from the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) and in has come a far more robust approach, that the dental industry needs to take seriously.
It’s undeniably a pain to be subject to rules that seem more suitable for the Wongas of this world. However, most clinicians specialising in high-value treatments such as orthodontics, will find, with the appropriate level of support from a finance provider, it’s worth the effort to meet the new regulatory requirements to continue the use of finance as a method of overcoming the cost barrier to treatment plan uptake.
To find out more about offering patient finance or if you need assistance with the recent changes in the FCA regulations, call 01691 684175 or visit www.medenta.com
Nigel Jones is sales and marketing director at Practice Plan and has over 20 years’ experience in dentistry. He first began helping dentists convert from the NHS to private care in 1990, and has since held senior management positions with several healthcare companies. Nigel joined Practice Plan in 2008.