Turning Bad Press into New Patients

Another year, another media hatchet job on Dentists in general practice. Channel 4’s Dispatches programme and the associated Saturday Times full-page article were full of righteous indignation as well as being, at times, simply wrong.

This time, the broad complaint against dentists was that of “gaming”. As I understand the term, it means exploiting the system to the advantage of the dentist and to the disadvantage of the patient. The sacred cow that the naughty dentists were exploiting was, of course, the NHS. This generates, as it always does, comparisons between NHS patient charges (now more opaque and nonsensical than ever) and private pay as you go fees. Already an apple and pears style comparison.

However, my intention in this article is not to prove the programme researchers wrong but to try and understand why Dentists keep attracting this media derision and how to turn this around to your advantage.

Most high street dentistry in this country is provided on the NHS. Around 18 million courses of NHS treatment last year compared to around 10 million courses of private treatment. Many more patients receive “mixed treatment”, that is a mixture of NHS and Private fee per item treatment and relatively few patients’ benefit from true private practice.

So, in order to understand the root of the problem the media has with dentists, lets get a few facts out of the general dental practice cupboard and into the spotlight:

  1. On average it costs around £450 per surgery per day to open a dental practice before the dentist who works in the surgery gets paid.
  2. Most dentists in general practice earn on average £425/day before personal tax. This means that they have to gross around £1,000/day.
  3. So, whoever pays the fees, (NHS, Denplan/Capitation Private pay as you go) the clinician has to gross around £1,000/day to cover the surgery costs and meet their income expectations.
  4. However, £1,000/day gross can be earned in many different ways. Here’s three examples: 
– NHS UDA’s/hour at £22/UDA
- NHS UDA’s/hour at £22/UDA plus £66/hour in private fees
- £132/hour in private fees
  5. In the examples I have given above; example one probably entails treating around 40 patients per day, example two probably involves treating around 30 patients per day and example three probably involves treating around 20 patients per day.
  6. It is undoubtedly true that the patient’s experience, as one of 40 patients per day, will differ to the patient’s experience as one of 20 patients per day.
  7. It is also likely that the type and quality of the clinical dentistry will differ in these examples in that it is hard for clinicians to do difficult clinical dentistry quickly.
  8. Those that deliver the dentistry could make this situation clear to the patients before they receive treatment. Generally, they don’t.
  9. Which means that often patients are confused as to what their choices really entail and some clinicians and their support teams hide behind this confusion.
  10. Which leads to TV and Press expose’s on the provision of dentistry in the UK…

Full circle then.

Meanwhile, back in your practices, I expect the media storm in the teacup has passed and that it’s business as usual. Or is it? Actually, I believe that very often, dentists get the press that they deserve and as long as they keep behaving as they do, the press will continue to produce programmes and press articles like these. The press are simply echoing the public’s dissatisfaction and discomfort with how (some) dentists behave. Remember that 33 million people in the UK don’t go to the dentist, a pretty damming judgement.

It’s easy to discover what people dislike about Dentists and Dental Practice; any party-goer will willingly tell you if you let slip you are a dentist!

Here’s my top 10 public dislikes about dentists and dentistry. They:

  1. Are afraid it will hurt.
  2. Don’t like injections.
  3. Find it difficult to get to the practice for treatment during working hours.
  4. Are concerned about the cost.
  5. Are unsure whether the treatment they are receiving is NHS or Private.
  6. Are worried that they might get treated for something that doesn’t really need doing.
  7. Feel out of control during the treatment and feel terrible afterwards unable to eat or drink in polite company.
  8. Are not sure how to select the best option from the choices presented to them.
  9. Have often had bad experiences in the past, which they want to avoid having again!
  10. Feel the fees are hard to understand and represent poor value for money

After many years of listening to patient complaints, I’m confident that these are the most potent dislikes! I believe the challenge and also the opportunity for any dentist who really wants to step outside of this paradigm is to re-write these dislikes by meeting them head on and providing a service that challenges all these negative connotations of high street dentistry by actively turning them around!

For example, imagine working in a practice that:

  1. Makes a promise that it will never hurt its patients!
  2. Uses local anaesthetic techniques (such as The Wand), which means that local anaesthesia is comfortable and effective at all times.
  3. Offers appointments to suit their patients busy weekday schedules.
  4. Has flexible ways to pay and is positioned to offer high quality at moderate prices.
  5. Has clear communications about what treatment is covered by The NHS/Dental Plan etc and which treatment they will have to pay for.
  6. Uses modern digital imaging technology to help patients understand where and why they have dental pathology.
  7. Allows patients to stay in control during their treatment keeping treatment times as short as possible and managing the patients expectations of what they will be able to do afterwards.
  8. Gives freely to patients, time, information and advice on treatment options.
  9. Acknowledges to patients that dentistry has provided tough times for patients historically but that such experiences are now history.
  10. Offers real value for money (as judged by the patients rather than those that work there).

If you were to market this as your proposition rather than another practice offering, “State of the art equipment in comfortable modern surroundings…” then I believe you would truly begin to address the public’s very real objections to having dental treatment. The media with all their inaccuracies are just the voice of this public discontent.s

Simon Hocken Director of Coaching, Breathe Business


To find out more about creating a ‘proposition’ to grow your practice, promote customer loyalty and drive sales, contact the Breathe team on 0845 299 7209 or info@nowbreathe.co.uk


This entry was posted in News, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *