Consumer confidence is slowly recovering in the UK.1 For the first time in years, unemployment is steadily falling while inflation and mortgage rates are at historically low levels. People have a more positive outlook as they begin to feel more optimistic about job security and have a little more disposable income. However, during great political and economic change, consumers are showing slow momentum, remaining cautious with their spending, and getting the best value for money remains a top priority.
Whether private or NHS, in most cases patients have to pay for their care and they have the choice between NHS, private and mixed provision. For the most part, patients choose a dental practice on the basis of recommendation and convenience. As a health care provision, it is not purely about obtaining the best value for money, of course, but patients are still confident to shop around for the best possible service. Therefore, to remain successful, dental practices should hone their attributes and skills to maintain a competitive edge and generate added value to the patient experience.
The key is to make patients feel special and to create a practice that they enjoy visiting. It can be relatively easy to distinguish one practice from all the other practices in the area by adding little touches or new services that are helpful to patients but will also add to revenue.
A practice is only as good as its team, and if good training opportunities are offered to staff, it’s possible to build a team of highly motivated people that could knock spots off the competition.
A clean, welcoming and calm environment is essential, but a few little extras—making Wi-Fi available to patients, having a television in the waiting area or providing tablets for younger patients to play games—can make it an altogether more pleasurable experience.
Every dental practice needs a professional-looking website full of practice information and services, along with educational material. This is a convenient way for patients to find details quickly, and most people will hunt for goods or services and read customer reviews online before making any decisions—without a website, a practice could miss out on the benefits of online presence, as well as the huge marketing potential that goes with it.
Patients are also probably more likely to visit a practice that they can email, and that has an online booking facility or forms that they can fill out online before they arrive.
Forward-thinking practices will also be active on social media, and have at least a Facebook page and a Twitter account that’s updated a few times a week. The content should be interesting, current and interactive so that patients keep the practice in mind and feel connected to it. Having this will attract patients who use this type of technology frequently—and, of course, encourage recommendations to friends and family.
Above all, patients expect exceptional care and support, and want a dentist that listens to them, has a friendly attitude, explains procedures and treatment options, and inspires confidence.2
A 2012 study revealed that patients value a dedicated dental team, and when they are treated as a ‘person, not as a patient’ by their dentists, it can produce some profound changes in the way they think about their oral health as well as the role of dental professionals. Similarly, when patients are able to express their opinions about different treatment methods and are involved in decision making, it empowers them, makes them more accepting of dental team instructions and has the potential to improve outcomes.3
For patients to make decisions and to ease any concerns or anxieties, they need to be well informed. Practitioners need to provide them with clear options, describing treatment plans and pathways thoroughly. Sometimes, of course, a particular procedure may not be within the skill set or capabilities of the practice, and in these cases practitioners need to have a streamlined and reliable system for referrals.
General practices need to have a good working relationship with referral practices that can be trusted to perform the dental procedures required and to return patients back to their regular surgery.
The London Smile Clinic is a dedicated referral clinic in the centre of London. Working in partnership with general dentists, referrals are accepted for complex restorative dentistry, implants, orthodontic, periodontal and endodontic treatments. The team carry out only the treatment it has been asked to complete and all patients receive five-star service before they’re returned to their own practice.
By implementing a reliable system for referral, patients are never left floundering and general practitioners know exactly how to handle any complex cases that are beyond their abilities or experience. Patient perception and value is also added with the ability to offer a wide variety of treatments at all levels.
General dental practices can also add further services such as tooth whitening, facial aesthetics or short-term orthodontics to their portfolio to successfully meet the growing demand for aesthetic and elective procedures, which are now more popular in the UK.
- The Neilsen Consumer Confidence Index. Q3 2016 Consumer Confidence Report. http://www.nielsen.com/uk/en/insights/reports/2016/q2-2016-consumer-confidence-report.html [Accessed 17th May 2017].
- Vahdat S et al. Patient involvement in healthcare decision-making: a review. Iran Red Crescent Med J. 2014 Jan; 16(1): e12454. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3964421/ [Accessed 17th May 2017].
- Sbaraini A et al. Experiences of dental care: what do patients value? BMC Health Serv Res. 2012; 12: 177. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3407476/ [Accessed 17th May 2017].
Since qualifying in 1989 in London, Dr. Tim Bradstock-Smith has created winning smiles for clients, models and celebrities from all over the UK and around the world. He has taken innumerable postgraduate courses in cosmetic dentistry and has been published in professional journals on the subject.
Bradstock-Smith set up The London Smile Clinic in 1999. He has been accredited in the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry—the only UK dentist to do so in the past 10 years. He is also the only dentist in the UK to hold both BACD and AACD accreditation.