Marie Agnew explores the beauty and ease of simplification, considers why the happiest people live the least complicated lives, and looks at how that can be applied to life in the dental practice.

When I think about simplicity, two words spring to mind – easy and happy.

Simplicity has been often linked with happiness, perhaps the most famous of the extollers of this symbiotic association was voiced by the Dalai Lama, who said: ‘Simplicity is extremely important for happiness’.

He wasn’t alone in his thoughts. Socrates wrote: ‘The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less’.

And if you think a picture is worth a thousand words, world famous photographer David Bailey commented: ‘I always go for simplicity’. Given his huge success, there’s a lot you can take from those few (simple) words…

Happiness today

Studies into happiness have revealed that people in the Nordic countries tend to be happiest, so perhaps it’s no surprise that Denmark is the home of the Happiness Research Institute.

Its research, based on the findings of the European Social Survey, indicates that over half of the UK population is unhappy compared to, for example, just 8% in Denmark. Factors affecting happiness include poor general health, poor mental health, income and limited social contact, some of which, I am sure, resonate with readers.

Part of the Happiness Research Institute’s mission is to ‘improve quality of life for citizens across the world’. Our mission, meanwhile, is to improve the quality of life for dental teams throughout the UK, via the pursuit of simplicity.

Let me offer this example of how complexity can make life difficult, frustrating, stressful, upsetting; it comes on the form of self-assembly furniture. We’ve all been there. You see a piece of furniture you love, it’s a great price, the box (just about) fits in the car after some wiggling and your partner tilting slightly to the left against the door for the half hour drive home, during which you desperately hope you don’t have to do an emergency stop because that box is going through your windscreen if you do! You get home, open the box immediately because you’re still excited, and out falls the instruction booklet. Sometimes not in English. Always like a Mensa test but with the bonus of an Allen key. I’ll stop there, because I think you have my drift by now.

Now imagine this. You go to a department store, you choose some furniture, they agree a delivery date, they phone in advance of arriving, place it in the room you want and take away the packaging. This is an incidental boon of career and salary progression, so how do you get there without burning out?

Simplicity in practice

There is no doubt that there are elements of dentists’ everyday working lives that make things more challenging than they necessarily need to be. Firstly, you need a good work/life balance – and, to achieve that, sticking to your day’s schedule is incredibly important, as is leaving dentistry behind when you walk out the door at the end of the working day.

This is simpler than you may think, especially for those working in private dentistry. Often, it’s about being clever with your diary and making sure everyone else on the dental team is on board with what you are looking to achieve. Do factor time into your day for checking in with patients who have had complex treatment, rather than doing it at home in the evening. The same goes for any calls you need to make to colleagues, be they specialists, your technician or supplier.

Another good trick is working out how you feel during the day. Are you a morning person or do you perk up after lunch? Based on that, consider what kind of treatment you would like to deliver when. You might, for example, prefer to get the complicated care done first thing, bring in emergencies before lunch and then perform check-ups in the afternoon, along with making calls to those you saw in the morning to ensure they’re doing okay.

Hand in hand with that, it’s really important that anyone who fills in your diary understands what is needed to achieve this, and why. This will simplify things for the team, too, offering them a simpler and happier workplace. 

You could then build on all of this in-practice simplification by offering other happiness-building opportunities, such as team outings, group exercise – yoga is excellent in the pursuit of happiness through simplicity – or performing charity work together, which is a win-win for all parties concerned.

On the whole, patient plans are also considered a positive move for practices, offering a simple and cost-effective way for patients to pay for their dentistry via a monthly direct debit system. However, which plan provider to choose and considering what to offer patients is often the more complicated bit.

I would suggest you apply the same principles to making this decision as you would to any other work choice. Would you choose a one- or two-step restorative material if they offered exactly the same handling properties and clinical outcomes? Would you prefer to go to the same enhanced CPD course in the town that you live in or 200 miles’ drive away? Sometimes the simplest – and best – solution is staring you in the face.

And it’s the same with choosing a plan provider; it’s important not to over-complicate things. For example, some plan providers offer all sorts of add-ons that you might not necessarily need or want, and may be making your life more complicated and costlier than it has to be. Choose the best plan provider that offers the greatest value for your patients, your team and you, and move on to more family time and yoga!

Meanwhile, the newly implemented ‘bulk change’ process offers practices a simpler and automated way to switch plan provider. Before now, switching plan provider usually meant writing to patients to ask them to complete a new direct debit instruction. However, thanks to the new rules, plan patients’ direct debits will be transferred automatically from one provider to another. Patients are informed of the changes in advance of the switch taking place but are not required to sign a new direct debit instruction. It couldn’t be simpler to do.

Reasons to be happy

It is generally considered that happiness brings with it many benefits. Happy people tend to be more productive, healthier and have better relationships than their sadder counterparts. Life is short and we should do everything we can to be happy – we deserve it and so do those around us.


If you are looking to simplify your practice life and would like to find out how Patient Plan Direct can help – and with admin fees from just £1, it now couldn’t be any easier – please contact us on 0344 848 6888 to find out more.