top of page
a blog by Chris Barrow

What’s the difference?

“What’s the difference between “NHS” and “Private” Dentistry?”

Perhaps I live a charmed life, dealing with the more prestigious independent practices? I really thought that, as a profession, we had that answer nailed.

But “no”.


  1. this week a practice asked me to arrange for a “mystery shopper” and, with the help of Emma John some calls were made to a reception team that attended her “Perfect Front Desk” day earlier in the year (so they have had the training). Sadly, the wisdom has clearly been forgotten and the answers to questions such as “do you currently accept NHS patients?” (it’s an all-private clinic) and “do you offer tooth whitening?” met with a less then acceptable response;

  2. Yesterday I met with the Clinical, Regional and Area Managers of IDH and the question “what’s the difference?” produced a fascinating debate – and a variety of answers.

So I thought a moment of reflection might help – because the difference between “NHS” and “Private” depends on the perspective of who is asking and answering the question.

And I want to take the perspective of the patient – because that’s who is going to pay everyone’s wages and bills at the end of the day.

The Difference

There are 5 of them as I see it – but I’m happy to accept feedback:

  1. Environment – delivered in nicer premises – all the Molton Brown in the toilets, chocolate-coloured leather sofas and cappuccino machines. Fancy gizmos in the surgeries, consultation rooms;

  2. Aesthetics – producing a result that looks nicer;

  3. Time – delivered more quickly (jumping a queue);

  4. Durability – lasts longer and functions better;

  5. Warranty – guaranteed for a longer period;

  6. Pace - delivered slowly and with genuine interest in the patient’s background.

And this analysis raises an interesting question about how we language the offer of “Private” – because it means different things to different people:

“Private” might mean to some people the way that a dentist charges more to pay for his Porsche Boxster.

So I come to the conclusion that there is no point in asking a patient the question “would you like an NHS or a Private crown?” because they simply haven’t a clue what that means – they only have a perception.

And equally, there is no point in asking a dentist to “try and sell more Private treatment” because they will probably get all precious about “clinical needs” and secretly quake in their boots because they think that “Private” means more complex and at a clinical standard with which they feel uncomfortable at best, scared at worst.

So we have to come up with a different list of questions. The only exception to this is “environment” – you either have a nice looking practice or you don’t.

Mr Patient, before I put together some treatment recommendations could I ask you a few questions?
  1. how important is the appearance of your smile to you? Do you want me to get the best possible result aesthetically?

  2. how quickly do you want this treatment to be concluded?

  3. would you be interested in work that carries an extended warranty?

  4. how important to you is it that I use materials of the very longest lasting durability?

  5. would you prefer to just arrive and depart quickly or would you prefer that we deliver the dentistry and our customer service slowly and with genuine consideration?

OK – they are not perfect questions but I hope you can see where I am going with this.

I’d like to suggest that we strike the word “Private” from the record – as a colleague observed yesterday, “Private” is a word you write on a door when you don’t want people to come in.

Don’t offer “Private” – offer a selection, a menu, of characteristics as mentioned above – and let the patient decide.

Patients are not stupid – they know that better means more expensive – they just need to know what they are paying for – and then enough of them will pay to make your business thrive, whether you are in a working class area or the rolling countryside!

2 views0 comments


bottom of page