With all the recommendations shared during the past few months you might be asking yourself which ones to continue implementing moving forward. We asked ourselves the same question.
We decided to go back through recommendations that were made during lockdowns and listed our top ones below. These 6 tips for Dentists to End this Year Strong are recommendations that you should be considering for the rest of the year and potentially as a new normal moving forward.
We'd also like to thank Dr. Randy LaFrom from The Dentist Advantage for his series on staying successful during COVID-19. If you've read the series you'll see some of his recommendations below.
Recommendations for dental practices that will hold true for the rest of the year.
1. Patient Communication
It's important that you've been keeping up on communication and you continue to do so. There's so much noise and communication going on constantly, it's important you build communication with your patients. Have a relationship with them so you stand out instead of getting lost in the pile of mail that gets recycled. Not to say we are against mailers, mailers have proven to be affective in the dental industry. We do however encourage you to do more than send your patients a post card.
Communication is more accessible now then ever before, you can call, text, email, and connect through social media. The question is are you? and are you communicating effectively? Everything you do is communicating to your clients, make sure you marketing, phone calls, social media and service are all communicating the same message to patients.
What are you communicating? Most likely the same as everyone else, you are there for them, your hours, the importance that they get treatment and the safety protocols you have taken. Consider investing in a patient communications system to help achieve your communication goals.
2. Your Team
This increase in communication applies to not just your patients but also your team.
It's just as important that you stay in communication with your team moving forward. With the catching up your team is going to need to do to reach the practice's goals your team's communication must be dialed in. Communication dropping out is one of the biggest causes of internal breakdowns within an office.
When you do connect with your team be clear, and empathetic, everyone is adjusting to the new normal. Clearly outline what the new normal is and talk about all the aspects it might effect, will your practice's vacation policy change? Will you implement a bonus system to thank your team for going above and beyond? How will you continue to celebrate and support your team? These are ALL things that need to be decided and then communicated to your team. This doesn't necessarily mean you need to say it all at once but be intentional about and clear when you do.
Hold team meetings regularly or perhaps extend your Daily Huddle to make sure everyone is on the same page with new policies.
Many of the new required protocol require involving your staff to “step-up” as it can definitely be overwhelming if you try to do it all yourself. Prepare your team, give them training and consistent scripts to say or communication guidelines, that are simple and easy to remember. The goal is to have a united approach when you communicate with your patients and to reduce the pressure on your staff by ensuring they are prepared.
Hold your team accountable, give them tasks, show them the criteria for success, and create a feedback loop to ensure continuity. Look for ways to make your key performance indicators easy to track, and be celebrate when you see positive progress.
3. Optimize Scheduling
Scheduling could look different moving forward. Keeping the appointment book full will be a priority as you strive to catch up on all the patients who are overdue. Additionally, your dental practice may only be running at 50% capacity or need longer turn around time for proper operatory disinfection.
For example: Turning around a room may include flushing / purging the air and waterlines for a minimum of 20 to 30 seconds after each patient as well as first thing in the morning. Leaving protective barriers on the surfaces for 10+ minutes after a procedure to let the aerosol that was generated have a chance to settle and dissipate before uncovering them could be an additional precaution.
Considering all of this, make sure you time your new process. Then, properly update your appointment book and provider hours.
Maximize appointments for you and patients. Encourage doing more quadrant dentistry and completing more procedures in one visit to minimize exposure and limit excessive PPE usage and costs involved in turning around a treatment room.
You can also try to schedule households at the same time to help control exposure. Consider reaching out to patients who still have insurance funds available to complete a treatment plan or get a hygiene appointment done. Some patients might have lost their jobs but still have access to their company insurance until the end of the year.
Consider being proactive and doing dental insurance verifications. Although it is a pretty simple process it does take time. The challenge with verifications is doing it in an efficient way. With tasks that can be as tedious as this one, it's an ideal strategy to keep them quick and painless for you, the patient, and insurance company. You may want to look into using a dental insurance verification software.
Lastly, you may consider modifying your hours to allow for catching up on your backlog of patients. Let them know of your plan on extending your hours (or shortening them).
4. Office Operations
Are you pulling back on everything, or are you actively recreating a new reality for yourself, your staff, and your patients with updating your practice office operations.
Updating your office operations may require having a Safety Officer/Infection Prevention Coordinator. This could be a current team member who is available to take on these additional responsibilities or hiring someone. They would take the lead on implementing and enforcing the safety precautions consistent with OSHA, and CDC guidelines. Their role is to make sure the office is successfully implementing and managing and holding people accountable. Maintaining a safe working environment while freeing up the doctor's and office manager's time to providing direct care for the patients.
The Safety Officer would help train on proper disinfection protocol for surfaces, equipment and reusable devices. Make sure rooms are fully stocked and prepared for specific procedures so staff don’t have to leave the room multiple times to go get items needed to complete a procedure.
A way to reduce how many patients are in your office is to introduce Telemedicine. It is used very effectively in the medical field, and while dentistry is more of a “hands-on” profession, there are still numerous ways you can do patient education, consultations and new patient interviews as well as emergency or cosmetic screening using a list of symptoms and combined with photographs.
You may want to consider using a professional platform that records the conversations. You'll want to be able to document any photos, x-rays or other materials reviewed with the patients as well as updating records and allergies and medications. Virtual consultations and new patient interviews can be conducted with anyone who has a smart phone or camera attached to a device.
One of the common questions is how to do billing for this. The ADA released new codes to allow and include teledentistry consultations; and if you do it, you should document it thoroughly. Using Teledentistry is an added value for any patients that have restricted access to get to your office or have a longer commute to get to you.
Moving towards a more digital, socially distant and streamline approach may also include using a digital documentation service like YAPI. With a service like this all you'll need to do is wipe down a touchscreen devise between patient use. This will reduce cross-contamination.
5. Your Patients
Your patients are your top priority and focus. To best serve them lets think about what they've most likely been going through the past few months.
It is estimated that 20-40% your patients will be or are unemployed or have/will lose their dental insurance during this current pandemic. One method of moving forward is to “slow-down” and spend more time building the relationship with your clients. Be focused on taking care of their overall health, review their medical histories, discuss long-term solutions, rather than simply going after the simple broken filling or emergency toothache. Practice your listening skills, everyone has a story about the past three months. Take the time to get to know your patients. Instead of being "a dentist" be "their dentist".
Set up your patients for success with these additional protocols:
- Using non-contact digital thermometers to screen them before bringing them back for treatment. Limit visitors into the office and especially the operatories. Have facemasks or cloth coverings available to patients or family in the waiting reception area.
- Making sure every patient is wearing protective eyewear during procedures.
- Using larger size disposable bibs to cover their clothing more when there will be aerosol created from drilling, air abrasion, air polishing, or using an ultrasonic scaler.
- Consider having the patients do a preprocedural swish with an Antiseptic Mouthwash such as Chlorhexidine or 1.5% Hydrogen Peroxide for 10-30 seconds prior to doing surgery, restorative work or cleanings. This will help reduce the bacterial count in the mouth and saliva.
- Do more hand scaling instead of using the ultrasonic cleaner to minimize aerosol. Potentially using a rubber dams for most all restorative procedures that would involve saliva or spraying. Using HVE within one inch of drilling for all procedures that create aerosol or plume such as a Class IV surgical type laser or electrosurgery unit.
6. The Power of Analytics
People often take vitamins when they get sick. What if they were to take vitamins and practice smart health habits when they are still healthy? It could potentially help minimize the effect of an illness. The same is true for businesses. You need to take periodic preventative measures, and do self-assessments regularly .
Business analytics will provide the information you need to asses how your dental practice is doing and what "vitamins and medicines" it needs. We encourage you to find an analytics solution that best suites your practice!
An example of what KPI's can tell you is too many practices are focused on spending money advertising for new patients, when they don’t realize that the “back door” of their practice is as big as the front door. KPI's will reveal to you who in your practice is due or overdue for treatment or hygiene. You can also monitor if you are on track to your annual goal, it's likely you'll have lots of catching up to do, but do you know how much?
Analytics don't need to be overwhelming, it should be an informative tool. This tool should be something you use everyday, showing you your success, your growth opportunities and overall does your reporting and tracking keeping you properly informed. When you are informed you can make impactful decisions that produce results.
The next 6 months will prove interesting for all of us! As you move forward with your plans and strategies we wish you the best of luck. We hope you found these 6 tips for the next 6 months useful as you look forward at the the rest of the year.