The uncertainty has now been removed and the General Dental Council confirmed last week(http://tinyurl.com/msginterim12) that Direct Access to Dental Care Professionals including hygienists, dental therapists and nurses will become a reality from 1 May 2013.
This is a significant and important change for dental professionals and practice owners which, if embraced and planned as part of an overall dental health offering, will offer benefits and opportunities for all including patients and the 50% of UK population who currently don’t make regular visits to the dentist for routine dental health checks. A real opportunity to improve access and choice.
Further details are still to be issued by the GDC but in the meantime the time is right to start planning and working out how to make Direct Access work for you and your practice.
Start today by making sure your team are fully up to speed with what Direct Access means both to reassure them that you are on top of things and that they are prepared to respond to the inevitable comments & questions from patients. Circulate the GDC Press Release and talk through what it means – involve your existing Hygienists and Therapists if you have them.
At this early stage and until you have agreed your strategy and plans, would suggest that you don’t go into too much detail with patients. Talk through the Press Release generally and show that you have embraced it – explain how it recognises the skills and professionalism of all Dental Care Professionals, recognises the value of team-work and will make access to essential and comprehensive dental care even easier. Keep your patients up to date with your plans in the practice, on your website and via Facebook/Twitter.
Direct Access will impact different practices and businesses differently. A great way to understand the impact for your practice and work out your own strategy & plans is to bring your dental team together in a team meeting and carry out a SWOT analysis which looks at Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats from your own point of view.
Create a flip-chart for each of the four categories and ask the team to brainstorm and come up with suggestions and ideas for each. Strengths & Weaknesses relate to how you do things at the moment and what you already have in the practice, Oppportunities and Threats are things outside of the practice which may impact you once Direct Access comes in.
This is not the right place to go through all the pros and cons of Direct Access but within your practice, some typical results might be:
STRENGTHS – which you can use right now to promote your practice and the benefits of Direct Access
- Quality and availability of existing trained Hygienists/Therapists
- Good teamwork
- Good referral system
- Patient base which understands the value of preventative care
- Strong communication links with patients
- Loyal patients
- Good recall systems
- Effective treatment planning
WEAKNESSES – which can be developed and improved with good planning
- Ineffective recall system
- Poor communication within the team
- Poor communication with patients
- Unwilling to change
OPPORTUNITIES – which can make a real difference to your business with good planning
- Access the 50% of UK population who don’t have regular dental check-ups with a different offering
- DCPs may encourage greater uptake of complex treatments and increased referrals
- Dentists focus on more complex treatments
- An alternative route into dental health care
- Nervous patients may feel more comfortable with a DCP rather than a traditional dentist
- More efficient use of skills & training
- Potentially more time with patients for treatment planning and discussion
THREATS – which can all be overcome with good planning
- Dentally-fit patients start to miss regular & essential oral health checks with dentists
- Patients attend elsewhere for routine healthcare
- The practice down the road which has got it’s act together and embraced change
Once you have come up with enough suggestions under each heading, identify 4 or 5 from each section which you all agree will have the biggest impact on your practice – these will form the basis of your strategy and planning.
STRENGTHS – make good use of your strengths, promote them to your patients and reap the rewards of Direct Access
WEAKNESSES – make plans to turn these into strengths, or at least make improvements to reduce the impact
OPPORTUNITIES – Plan new ways of working to take advantage of the new opportunities
THREATS – Plan ways to turn threats into opportunities, or at least reduce the impact
Once you have understood the likely impact of Direct Access on your practice you will be ready to focus on what can be done differently and make achievable plans to take advantage of the change. Good planning, good communication and embracing the change will keep you in control of your business and ahead of the game.