The "age of austerity"

The "age of austerity"

President of the BDA, Dr Amarjit Gill discusses the age of austerity and looks at what 2011 may hold for dentistry...

Unless you’ve gone into hibernation this winter, you could not have missed the advent of Prime Minister Cameron’s now fully-realised ‘age of austerity’, which will continue into the foreseeable future. 

As we look ahead to the possibilities for 2011, it appears we will also have to reconcile ourselves to the fact that tough times will get tougher for us all.

My dictionary lists several definitions of ‘austerity’, the third of which describes it as “a reduced availability of luxuries and consumer goods, esp when brought about by government policy.” In this chilly climate (with the weather replicating the financial situation), the effects of austerity are bound to take their toll. As people assess their personal circumstances, sorting their ‘luxuries’ from their ‘essentials’, where will dentistry be for most patients?

I believe everyday decisions will become more about compromises, looking at what can be put aside. Unless patients are experiencing immediate discomfort in some way, they may well opt to sideline dental care as they try to make ends meet in their day-to-day lives. Some practices have already seen evidence of this trend in 2010. In fact, I personally know of a couple of ‘top end’ practices that are facing bankruptcy. That doesn’t herald the mood for despondency. Whilst the weakened economy could mean that dental treatment is deposited in the ‘luxuries’ basket by many, we must continue to take every opportunity to reinforce the benefits of regular visits to our patients.

People only buy on price when they cannot ascertain value. Think of your own reasons when you’re out. It’s incumbent upon us to offer, and deliver, a service that our own patients can benefit from. Where I work, we have always looked to attract families and focused on prevention with a cosmetic flavour. Whilst the nature of my work is changing, i.e. less smile makeovers, the rest of the time is taken up by doing preventative and restorative dentistry. The accountant is still happy, which means so am I.

Despite our best efforts to encourage patients to adopt good habits, we cannot determine their priorities, so we may well see them reduce the frequency of their visits to us. We will also need to reflect upon our own situation in this ‘winter of discontent’, seeking to fortify ourselves for what promises to be a challenging year. Good preparation could prove to be more crucial in the next couple of years than in any other we’ve seen in the recent past.

Irrespective of the hurdles that may lie ahead, it’s crucial that we remain resolute in our commitment to our patients, reminding them of the benefits of maintaining their regular check-ups and the value of a healthy smile. It’s that commitment, after all, that has generated the trust, loyalty and demand that keep our practices busy. It also reassures our patients that even in these ‘austere’ times, the high quality care they have come to expect will continue. 

 Remember that we sell a service, not a product. It’s that otherwise intangible something that keeps them smiling and will keep them coming back. This was put far more succinctly by one of the most famous Indians of our time, Mahatma Gandhi: “A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work – he is the purpose of it. We are not doing him a favour by serving him. He is doing us a favour by giving us the opportunity to serve him.”