Dental membership plans
Katrina Rees explains how they can be of benefit to the whole dental team
As hopes of any meaningful change to the NHS dental contract south of the border fade, with the move further away from the Commons Select Committee Hearings, more dentists are reassessing their future within the system. Those considering making the leap of faith into private practice may wish to introduce a membership plan to help replace their income from the contract.
One of the great attractions of having an NHS contract used to be the guaranteed income. As long as you delivered your allocated UDAs, you were guaranteed to be paid accordingly. This offered a degree of certainty and security that dentists found appealing. Handing back the contract without having a means of replacing that guaranteed income is a scary prospect. Which is why it’s a good idea in those circumstances to introduce a membership plan.
Membership plans provide a predictable monthly income, which is probably more than can be said for NHS contracts at the moment. With predicted clawback at around £400m (or more) for the last financial year, there are many practices who will have been given their NHS money with one hand and had it taken away again with the other. Which, during a time of galloping inflation and ever-rising costs, could leave them in a precarious position. As NHS fees are fixed, they’re unable to pass on these increased costs to patients, which could cause huge financial struggles.
However, dentists who have made the move to private practice can help replace the income earned from an NHS contract through a membership plan. As patients pay monthly for their membership, the money comes in whether they come into the practice or not. This means, whether you’re in surgery treating patients, or poolside enjoying a well-earned rest, your membership fees will still be collected.
During the pandemic lockdowns and restrictions many of our practices saw the benefits of having a membership plan in place. Despite not being able to open, they were still able to count on the plan fees to keep things ticking over. Indeed, some practices have told us the income from their plans was a real lifeline for their business and helped them to survive.
Helping patients spread the cost of maintenance
However, being able to predict your income is not only useful in times of crisis. It also helps with cashflow and financial planning in general. In times of austerity people will look to make savings. They will generally do this by cutting down, going without or putting things off. Which is what pay-as-you-go patients seem to have been doing. If money is tight, they may choose not to attend their dental appointment as they see it as a way of saving money. Whereas patients on plan will, in effect, have already paid for their appointments, so they are more likely to attend as they may see it as a way of getting their money’s worth.
Having patients on plan has also been shown to increase their loyalty to the practice. Again, this means they’re more likely to attend regularly than those who pay-as-they-go. Asking patients to join a membership plan, especially one branded to the practice itself, brings a greater sense of belonging. It can feel akin to being asked to join a club which helps to engender a sense of ownership and belonging. All of which contribute to increase a patient’s loyalty to the practice. Also, being seen regularly by a dentist and hygienist gives greater opportunities to catch problems early allowing preventative measures to be taken. Consequently, plan patients tend to have better oral health than pay-as-you-go patients too.
As independent dentists, you have the freedom to extend the length of time you spend with patients. And, as well as providing a more relaxed atmosphere, this gives the opportunity to get to know your patients better and build rapport with them. Because plan patients generally have better oral health than pay-as-you-go patients, this means conversations can switch from being about what treatment needs to be done to the subject of what treatment patients would like to choose to have done. Together you can discuss how happy they are with their smile and what, if anything, they would like to change about it. And so, this gives you the chance to increase your treatment uptake.
Membership plans offer benefits all round. The practice benefits from regular, guaranteed income and increased patient loyalty. Which allows owners and managers to produce realistic forecasts and plans for the future of the business. Patients get peace of mind knowing they will get to see their dentists regularly and that they are allied to a practice. Patient sign-up for Practice Plan can be done online. All practice staff have to do is give the patient a link and they complete the sign-up process at a time that’s convenient to them so it’s hassle-free for the practice team. Also, practice staff generally report that plan patients are easier to deal with and less demanding than pay-as-you-go patients, which creates a more pleasant working environment for them too.
So, if you’re looking for a way to replace your income from an NHS contract, introducing a membership plan makes perfect sense.
If you’re considering your options away from the NHS and are looking for a provider who will hold your hand through the process whilst moving at a pace that’s right for you, why not start the conversation with Practice Plan on 01691 684165, or book your one-to-one NHS to private call today: practiceplan.co.uk/nhsvirtual
About Katrina Rees
Katrina is an Area Manager for Practice Plan who joined the dental sector in 2018 after 25 years’ working in sales and people management roles. Practice Plan is the UK’s leading provider of practice-branded patient membership plans, partnering with over 1,800 dental practices and offering a wide range of business support services.