If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans
But now is the time to make the changes in your professional life that you may have been postponing
Preparing for this piece, I knew the direction that I wanted to take and the points I intended to make. They concerned the future in the post-COVID-19 dental world and the opportunities that would be there for dentists. Unfortunately, we have no idea when that world will emerge.
Scotland’s Chief Dental Officer (CDO) wrote on 20 May to set out the “first steps for the remobilisation of NHS Dental Services in Scotland”, but it remains very open ended. Ramping up of the emergency centres, albeit short term, does not bode well for a return to normality, even in the medium term.
The CDO proposes a possible date of 31 July to start the Phase 2(a); face-to-face consultations. This does little to reassure many practices or their teams about their future. The support promised for NHS dental practices does nothing to assist those serving that sector of the population that chooses its care outside the NHS system. Rumours abound that some purely private practices are intending to re-open in the very near future; they consider their precautions good enough to keep their patients and team members safe.
That dentists in the Irish Republic, Holland and Germany have returned to work to serve their patients shows inconsistency, even with the most serious of health matters. Presumably there are elements that are open to interpretation. Could it be that it’s easier to keep practices shut, to support the NHS practices and freeze the purely private practices into line? There is a history of different attitudes to the sectors in recent times; take the financial disclosures demanded of private practices but not NHS ones.
At some point things will turn around, practices will open, and patients will return. Dentists will do what they have always done; reassure and help their patients who in their turn will continue to have confidence in their dental team. Obviously, some reassurance and visible signs of cross infection control will be required but trust will remain. Of course, some things will have changed.
The world needs the skills that dentists and their teams bring. Dentists will have kept themselves informed of the guidelines of who, what and how to treat and will have acquired the appropriate PPE. The good practices will have used social media and the internet to communicate with their patients and kept them up to date.
Dentistry has had distractions during the HIV/AIDS epidemic and more recently from the economic crash in 2008. Each time it has survived and gone from strength to strength. The smart ones in the profession will be seeing this as an opportunity to reflect and take stock of what they are offering and how it can be improved. This is a chance to examine your philosophy of practice, to rethink how you can serve your patients to the very best of your ability and to make yourself truly patent-centred.
Many dentists for whom retirement was perhaps seen in the middle distance will learn a lesson and decide to get out sooner than later. This will make space for younger colleagues to fill those spaces.
All practice owners, from single handed to corporate, are enduring significant financial shock. It might be that there will be a demand and need of a change in the owner-associate relationship and a move to a form of expense sharing status. This means more associate risk but also benefits from greater skin in the game and independence. This can be a true win-win for both parties, owners and associates alike, and is worth considering.
Opportunity beckons for start-ups, a model that has dipped in popularity but should rebound. It’s a hard, but worthwhile, choice and gives the chance to build something new with your own brand and philosophy. Rural areas see less provision of dentistry, but costs are lower and the lifestyle can be better than in urban areas.
Will we see a change in patients’ needs and wants? Some will be more cautious about commitment to long courses of treatment, and those with the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude will persist. There will be others who have stared in the mirror during the weeks of lockdown and may want to make changes and embrace self-improvement in its many forms. To discover the wants and needs will take careful and sensitive questioning and listening. Communication is key.
For many, dentistry has a history of being over reactive; the patient presents with a problem, has the problem ‘fixed’ and then disappears. Even short-term orthodontics uses this model to a certain extent. After such a shock, now is a good time for dentistry to stop hiding its light and for dentists to take the time and become true health professionals by explaining and showing the great advantages and benefits of 21st century holistic dental care.
This time provides an opportunity for change, to make the changes to your professional life that you may have been postponing for years. We have looked into the abyss; it’s time to gain something from that experience.
Alun K Rees BDS is The Dental Business Coach. An experienced dental practice owner who changed career, he now works as a coach, consultant, trouble-shooter, analyst, speaker, writer and broadcaster. He brings the wisdom gained from his and others’ successes to help his clients achieve the rewards their work and dedication deserve.