In this exclusive interview, Dr Jim Sykes shares his journey to mixed practice with the help of a plan provider.
Dr Jim Sykes co-founded Hexham Dental Clinic with Dr Mark Hanlon in 2007. With the support of PPD, they are now a thriving mixed practice, with the ability to provide a full range of cosmetic treatments to the highest standards using the latest in technology.
When you were a purely NHS practice, what motivated you to look for an alternative way of working?
Jim: Our goal has always been to provide excellent quality dentistry, to treat people as we’d like to be treated ourselves, and for our practice name to become synonymous with the best dentistry in the local area.
Anyone who has worked in the NHS knows it can be a challenge from time to time. I think the system’s broken, but we work hard not to let that get in the way of looking after people properly. However, I was struggling with the workload and I couldn’t always do the dentistry I wanted to do.
At the same time, our patients were becoming increasingly more interested in what you might call cosmetic treatments, including Invisalign and implants, and it seemed natural to move towards that.
How did you go about making that change?
Jim: A good friend of ours had been working with Patient Plan Direct and suggested I speak to the local Business Development Manager, Janice Charlton. So, I had an initial meeting with her, and she looked at how we were working and what we could achieve with a private dentistry offering.
She introduced the idea that just one of us could move over to private dentistry and the rest of the team continue to provide NHS dentistry. That meant we could maintain the financial security offered by the UDA system and continue to serve our patients committed to remaining within the NHS but also branch out.
We actually looked at lots of different providers before we made our choice. I think getting the experiences of other practices and finding out how they were supported both during the process and after formed the basis of our decision. But also, Janice herself played no small part – she made life as easy as could be. In fact, the transition to mixed practice was so much easier than we had anticipated.
How did you communicate the potential for change to the team?
Jim: I think, generally speaking, that people don’t like change. That said, we’re very lucky that we’ve got a really good, supportive team who are happy with the direction of the practice.
To make sure everyone was kept in the loop, we arranged a meeting with Patient Plan Direct and closed for an afternoon to share our ideas with the team and to prepare for change. Janice’s experience meant that she was able to answer everyone’s questions and to guide us on how to field patient queries, too.
Was any part of the decision-making cost-related?
Jim: Cost was an issue, but not the driving factor. I’m aware that Patient Plan Direct is significantly cheaper than some other competitors. I think that may have been off-putting for me in some ways had I not met Janice and seen for myself that it’s no reflection of the level of service and experience they offer to their clients. Actually, the service I’ve received from Patient Plan Direct has far exceeded my expectations.
Now that you have completed the transition period, what advice could you offer to any NHS dentists thinking about making a change?
Jim: I think you need to identify not just where you are now, but where you want to be. Have a clear vision about what you want to achieve. Talk to the team at Patient Plan Direct team, because they can help you achieve that vision. But you’ve got to have team vision to begin with.
So, what’s next for you and the practice?
Jim: I think we’ve got a huge increase coming our way in in terms of cosmetic treatment and my new schedule allows me to help patients pursue those options. Instead of being booked up for six to eight weeks in advance, I’m now booked for one to two weeks. So, I’m in a position where I can take on new patients and start doing the kind of dentistry that excites me. And it’s a lovely place to be.
Weighing up NHS versus private dentistry?
It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
Patient Plan Direct’s ‘principal- or associate-only move’ allows the team to weigh the benefits of either an all-private or mixed offering, without losing the financial security of the UDA-based contract or upsetting any patients who would prefer to be treated on the NHS.
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