Interview: Ben Flewett, Managing Director at Software of ExcellenceNews podcast Promotional Features
Posted by: The Probe 21st April 2022
The Probe talks to Ben Flewett, Managing Director Software of Excellence, a Henry Schein One company, who shares his views about the state of the industry as we emerge from the pandemic
Could you share some of your overall thoughts on the current state of UK dentistry?
I think there are two key factors in dentistry today: what’s happening for patients and what’s happening for the dental profession.
What’s happening for patients is simple. There is a huge portion of the population that is unable to get a dental appointment. There is a reasonable cohort of patients that are still being looked after very well by NHS dentistry, but increasingly, there is another group unable to get access to care. Some patients can go private, but many don’t have the means, so they must wait.
For dental practices, the situation is more nuanced. There’s been a shortage of dentists for some years now and practices have had to work hard to attract and retain clinicians. We have reached a position where we now have a massive shortage of dentists and my experience suggests this shortage falls unevenly – affecting NHS, corporate and rural practices disproportionately.
As a practice owner, the challenge used to be about how to attract and retain patients. This has completely changed in many areas of the country, and it’s now all about attracting and retaining dentists.
How do companies like Software of Excellence help practice owners and principals overcome these challenges?
I think it’s all about making your practice a more competitive place to work and the key is to understand individuals and figure out how to be more flexible about the working environment. We now have solutions that enable practices to offer dentists the opportunity to complete some of their work at home. We also have some strong capabilities that allow the practice team to work in a very different way – care coordinators and receptionists for example – these roles can now be done effectively from outside the practice.
What do you say to dentists who might be considering giving up their NHS contracts?
If a dentist has made the decision to move from NHS to private the first thing to say is: “Have confidence”. Communicate with your patients, explain to them what you’re doing and why. For those practices choosing to stay within the NHS, I think it’s also about communicating with patients, helping them understand the pressures that the pandemic has laid upon the profession.
One thing that is starting to emerge is flexible commissioning and I really think this is a very important part of the future. Flexible commissioning could offer a substantial improvement in the way that NHS practices are commissioned in order to better service patient need and make the business of NHS dentistry effective and affordable for government in the future.
Is a great ‘patient experience’ able to be delivered when practices are so busy?
I think you must add the delivery of a great patient experience to the list of priorities, alongside availability of staff. You need to have enough staff to be able to focus on the patients that are in the practice. That means taking tasks that can be done outside of the surgery such as booking online and completing forms and have them done before the patient arrives to simplify and expedite the patient’s interactions, particularly at reception and in the waiting room.
Do you see any big step changes in the technological solutions that are available to dentists that will drive change in the in the next few years?
Yes, absolutely. There are a range of technologies emerging and there is a real step change happening with regards to the advent of cloud-based practice management software solutions, like Dentally, which is part of Software of Excellence’s portfolio.
Cloud solutions mean that data is always there, always available, which means patient facing solutions are enabled in a way that they simply can’t be when the data is only in the practice. At the same time, many of these data are highly personal and sensitive, so the increased possibilities go hand in hand with an increased need to protect these data. We aim to provide a range of transformational patient facing applications that completely transform the patient journey.
Cloud based software also enables practice groups to work in a totally different way, because it’s no longer the case that they are operating as discrete practices. It’s easy to see how they can operate as a single entity, because the data across the estate is now available to users through a single console. I really believe this change will precipitate a revolution in the way that practices interact with patients. And that, particularly multi practice groups, will function more efficiently on a day-to-day basis.
How optimistic are you about the future of dentistry and particularly about dentists’ ability to adapt in the way in which you’ve described?
I’m generally an optimistic person and I think in this case there are good reasons for positivity. What the market is really going to have to wrestle with is one simple fact; we do not have enough trained dentists. This means that the balance of power has strongly swung in favour of the profession. This is a good thing, because the profession knows and understands what patients need to manage oral health well. As for patients, those that are fortunate enough to be able to afford it will spend money on oral health care and wherever you invest in an industry, generally speaking, you see innovation and development. I think this will be true of private dentistry in the UK. So, I am optimistic!
To learn more about how Software of Excellence can help with the challenges facing dentistry visit www.softwareofexcellence.com