Looking back at how much – and how rapidly – dentistry has changed in recent years and then thinking ahead to future challenges, it’s easy to feel nervous.
Maybe you are someone who embraces change with enthusiasm. Or maybe you have reluctantly accepted that resistance is futile in an altering landscape, both within dentistry itself and in the social, economic and political shifts that are impacting on what we do. Maybe you know you need to refocus in order to be prepared to meet these challenges, but are not sure how and where to begin.
However, the key message remains unchanged; it is that dental professionals are there to deliver both preventive dental care and treatment; and to support patients with the knowledge and skills they need to improve and maintain their own oral health. But a message can only be persuasive if it is delivered effectively. Patients’ needs have changed. They want excellent service from the first point of communication and they want convenience to align with high quality care. If they are not satisfied, they know that they can easily find an alternative practice. Competition in the sector is strong and choice is another element of patient satisfaction.
Dental care, including NHS care, can be expensive and the decision to visit the dentist is a choice that one in five adults still don’t make until there is a problem. Private or NHS, getting more people to visit, and more often, in order to prevent serious problems developing is an ongoing challenge and can seem like a mountain to climb.
Skill mix is an important part (and challenge) of modern dentistry, and you may long for the opportunity to use the skills of the team in order to diversify and offer new and exciting treatments. Skill mix can also help with distributing workload more efficiently: a dental nurse can advise on brushing techniques and dietary issues or a dental hygienist can provide maintenance care for treatments instead of the dentist.
Regardless of how robust your profit margins and projections are, the industry in general is facing the issue of availability and clarity of service provision. These challenges are very likely to intensify when the impact of the Brexit deal on the profession finally becomes clear. The change will affect us all – whatever we do and wherever we work. Recruitment and retention of talented staff from EU countries is a key issue that needs addressing early, and there will be increased pressure on NHS funding. The time has long passed for thinking that this won’t affect you or your patients. It’s easy to stay in a bubble – often because there is no time to give much thought to anything else but the patient sat in your chair – but the dental sector as a whole needs to pull together and avoid wasting time on internal differences if we are going to meet the challenges ahead.
Again, it all comes back to the patient. A patient has the right to expect a good standard of care in Bournemouth or Brighton; whether they visit a large or small practice, a corporate or independent or have NHS or private care. Consistency is key and it is also what will keep the dental industry moving forward despite whatever changes are coming. Whatever else is going on, being continually guided by patients’ demands for high standards across the board will improve their confidence in our work and – hopefully – a willingness to adopt a preventive approach to oral health. More than ever, being inspired in your work is fundamental if you want to be fully committed to improving the service you offer.
It is time to refocus and think about where you – as a professional and a practice – have been, and where you are going next. We can’t ignore how the industry is changing and everyone needs to be prepared!