Have Specialist Practices Had Their Day?

We work (and have worked with) many specialist practices and, of course, many of them still have a collection of GDPs who reliably send them patients for NHS ortho, difficult endo and impossible extractions. However, many of the private specialist practices we come across are finding an increasing number of patients are self-referring and their GDP referrals are falling.

The GDPs (particularly the private ones) are beginning to find ways to treat patients who require specialist attention either by hiring associates with a special interest or by finding a specialist who is prepared to visit the practice once a week or once a month (specialist registers are growing fast). “Better to keep the fee in the practice rather than give it away” is the new GDP mantra.

On the other side of the coin, many specialist practices are beginning to offer general dentistry or elements of general dentistry such as tooth whitening, hygiene services and extractions. This niggles the GDPs who see these services as their territory and an example of the specialists earning fees that are rightfully theirs.

And then there are all the new ortho systems (Invisalign, Fast Braces etc) which are swiftly adopted and then touted by GDPs as a reliable alternative to more sophisticated orthodontics. And another cohort of patients are lost to specialist orthos who indignantly see these patients as rightfully theirs…

All in all, the mutual respect and admiration is wearing a bit thin and being replaced with a touch of simmering resentment… So, what’s the solution? First off, I suggest that all concerned avoid the moral and clinical high ground and just agree this argument is about money. Pure and simple.

If I owned a specialist practice I would get on with marketing directly to patients and accept that in the future around half of my patients will find me without a GDP referral. If I owned a GDP practice, sure, I would look for associates with (proven) skills that meant as many of my patients as possible were being treated within the practice rather than being referred out.

Perhaps a better solution for the future would be for a group of local practitioners to create a specialist hub they all refer into, staffed with fabulous specialist skills. This means their patients could receive the right treatment without commercial considerations dumbing down the treatment, and the owners would share the profits. A win for clinicians and patients and all the dentists get a share of the cake.

Oh yes – and there are plenty, PLENTY of patients to go round!

If you would like some help with attracting self-referring patients to your specialist practice, please get in touch for a chat.

t: 0845 299 7209                                                                        

e: simon.hocken@breathebusiness.co.uk

With all good wishes,


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