If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck…


In the 1980s I got an associate job in a private dental practice in Torquay. At that time, private practices were as rare as hens’ teeth in Devon and I had a fantastic opportunity to learn how to be a private dentist with a willing and charismatic mentor. In retrospect, what I really learned was what a private practice looked like, felt like and behaved like. It certainly was very different in many ways to the NHS practices I had worked in previously and much of what I learned I was able to roll out in the private squat practices I opened in later years.

These days, proper private dental practices are much more prevalent (even in Devon!) and patients understand that the NHS budget is under pressure and that NHS practices will look and feel different to private practices.

So, private patients are looking for a duck. A private practice that gives off all the right signals so that they can be confident they’re in the right place. Patients have a clear set of expectations which are easy to understand and simple (although not cheap) to fulfil, and yet many principals allow their practices to fall short of being a duck and they lose prospective patients before they’ve even met them.

Fulfilling a private patient’s expectations isn’t particularly difficult, but it is essential, and so here is a checklist of 10 ways a patient knows they’ve found a duck:

  1. Immaculate, clean, beautifully decorated premises inside and out.
  2. Charming, outgoing, friendly receptionists, recruited from the same/similar pond (forgive the pun) as the patient target group. In other words, receptionists who the patients can relate to (probably not inexperienced young girls or mature but uneducated women), who are dressed like smart boutique hotel receptionists.
  3. A waiting area and reception which is comfortable, well lit, the right temperature and with a quality feel (not Ikea and no Blue-Tac).
  4. A fabulous toilet.
  5. The practice runs on time (or early) every time. No excuses.
  6. The clinicians are charismatic and dressed in the way that private clinicians dress, both in surgery and when they arrive/depart the practice. No jeans, no trainers etc.
  7. No terrible art on the walls or recycled furniture from the principal’s home.
  8. A coordinated, disciplined, seamless patient journey run by a team that is charming and can-do.
  9. A vibe of unhurried, comfortable, professional calm.
  10. Team members that always do what they say they are going to do and look for every opportunity to go the extra mile for their patients.

So there it is. Many of the private practices I visit fall short on some or all of these criteria, and these practices are shrinking because their patients are doing value checks on them and then trying out another local private practice for their next check-up.

If you want to be a proper duck and need a hand, contact me for a chat:

  1. 07770 430576
  2. simon.hocken@breathebusiness.co.uk
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