If you are like most dentists, your office is open, but it is not like it was before the pandemic.
If or when things return to “normal,” it’s unlikely they will be exactly as before. Right now, we are in a time of transition, with new information and guidance each week. The key to keeping your practice going smoothly is the ability to adapt with the changing circumstances.
This is especially important if you have been considering listing your dental practice for sale. As we’ve previously written, you are going to want to hit a production goal of about 80% of your monthly 2019 production average within the coming months. Below, we discuss some ways you can help your patients feel comfortable coming to your office, confident in their treatment, and will help you keep your office on track toward this goal.
As a doctor, you are in a unique position to engender patient trust through reassurance.. Dr. Jessica Meeske, vice chair of the ADA Council on Advocacy for Access and Prevention, recently said “My advice is not to practice in fear,” she said. “Patients need dental care and we have the responsibility and privilege to provide it.” In doing so, you can be a reliable and trusted leader in your community on issues related to infection control.
Recognize the Stress
Everyone has been rather stressed out by what we’ve seen and experienced over the last few months. In addition to the concern about becoming ill, your patients have had compounded stressors by the economic impact of stay at home orders and social distancing. According to a recent survey, “60% of U.S. parents say they’ve had no outside child care during the coronavirus pandemic” and “millions have spent the duration attempting to work from home while also caring for kids,” including being responsible for their home education.
There are also medical issues not related to, but impacted by COVID-19. People with illnesses have gone untreated or had treatment postponed. Families have been separated from each other, often to protect elderly or immunocompromised family members. Families have also laid loved ones to rest without a traditional funeral service and the comfort that can provide.
As a healthcare provider, be prepared for patients to have these things on their minds. They may raise some of their concerns, even if unrelated to dental care. Look for evidence of unhealthy responses to their stressors, such as increased drinking, smoking, and overeating.
With so much upheaval, avoiding the obvious struggles all are dealing with feels inauthentic. Don’t be afraid to just ask them straight out how they have been doing during the pandemic. You may be the first healthcare provider they have encountered in a long time, and your professional expertise and knowledge can be very helpful. You may want to consider scheduling patients for longer appointments to allow time for conversations you may have not had with patients before. Have compassionate, validating responses ready: “Wow, that sounds very hard,” and “Of course you’d feel that way,” are simple acknowledgements that help people feel heard and seen.
Dentistry is a profession built on relationships. Your patients trust you. This is a time where you can make good on that trust and build even stronger community connections. From an economic standpoint, your patients are your most valuable asset. When you treat them as such, you will be rewarded—both immediately by strengthening your bond with them, and also when it comes time to place your dental practice for sale and pass on the goodwill you have created to the right person who will maintain that level of trust.
Let Patients Know What to Expect
Start educating patients on how their experience in your office will be different before they arrive. Either when appointments are scheduled, or when calling to confirm appointments, have a script ready for your office staff to explain the check-in procedures, whether the reception area will be available or not, whether they can have a family member or not, whether masks are required for non-patient family members, and so on. Going to the dentist can be stressful for some patients and providing information about how they are being protected will be reassuring.
The American Academy of Implant Dentistry (AAID) has released a new checklist to help people prepare for their next dental appointment, What to Expect: Going to the Dentist After Stay-at-Home Order Is Lifted. This helpful document was produced by doctors who own practices across the nation and have followed infection control procedures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for years. These practices now are implementing extra steps to protect patients and employees.
Be proactive in communicating your sterilization measures. The OSHA guidelines are essential and effective, however, patients may still be worried. When they arrive for an appointment, you can explain or show your patients what measures you have implemented to keep them safe. This will bolster their trust in you, show your diligence in the care you provide, and increase the credibility of your dental practice. Again, this will pay off when it comes time to place your dental practice for sale.
Define Your Protocols and Train Your Staff
For many of your patients, it will be imperative that they see a smoothly functioning operation to feel at ease. Given that you and your staff are having to modify your office procedures, take the time to specifically delineate what needs to happen for each appointment and train your staff to run the new procedures effectively and efficiently while maintaining a friendly atmosphere. Some things you may want to consider include:
- Verbal check-ins for appointments rather than requiring patient contact with touchscreens, keypads, or pens.
- Scheduling consistent disinfection throughout the day of your reception area and front-desk, the places that have the most traffic. Also, make sure there is a thorough disinfection occurring after you see your last patient in preparation for the next day.
- Remove anything from your reception area that people can handle, including magazines, television controls, toys, books, or any beverages.
- Rearrange your reception area to allow for adequate social distancing. Space out your chairs. Remove some if necessary.
- Allow space in your schedule for flexibility, to accommodate social distancing, and to reduce the number of patients in your office at a given time.
These kinds of measures will both help keep you, your staff, and your patients safe and healthy, and will communicate to your staff and your patients that you have their well-being in mind.
Use Social Media to Inform and Educate
Social media is a great way to get the message out to your patients about how you are taking precautions to safeguard their well-being. If you haven’t already, now is a good time to pivot your messaging to focus on building trust and maintaining your reputation.
Let patients know if you are offering extended office hours or will be open on weekends, or whether you are changing the availability of services to focus on the most critical needs, such as teledentistry options. Also, you can post the safety measures you and your staff are taking to protect patients. You are also advised to consider putting a notice about the safety measures on your website’s homepage and social media channels.
While doing this, however, be careful to not make it sound like everything is different. Be reassuring about what remains the same. Some suggestions include:
- Keep the focus on dentistry, but with a sensitivity to health-related concerns. Let patients know what services you can provide and why your patients can have confidence in their safety while under your care.
- Keep your content relevant. Use your channels to promote oral health education along with more general information about infection control. Promote the safety of dental appointments. Provide practical home care tips. Highlight the connection between your patients’ overall health and their oral health.
- Use social media to keep patients updated to any changes to your office’s procedures, services, and availability.
- Be sensitive to current circumstances. It can be helpful to make patients aware of what services you are offering, so they know their options. But if it feels too much like advertising, you may get a negative response. Your messaging should be one of helpfulness and compassion.
Protect Your Practice
While this is less directly related to building patient trust, you won’t be able to follow through on that goal if your practice isn’t prepared or isn’t operating effectively. You may need to take some steps to make sure you are in full compliance with the best practices regarding infection control and are ready to adequately provide treatment in a safe environment.
- Regulations: Be informed about what you can and cannot do under your current local regulations, as well as any national guidance on when and how to safely operate a dental practice. The ADA offers an interactive map detailing current state regulations. Keep in mind that each area is being managed differently and the timeline for expanding the reopening will be different for each state and sometimes for individual cities.
- Safety: Do not assume that simply because you are allowed to have your office open that it is necessarily safe to do so. Infection rates vary from state to state, county to county, and city to city. Be informed about whether cases in your area are increasing or declining and why. Consider your patient base and staff and how many of them may be vulnerable to infection. Don’t open or expand your services unless you have confidence that you are doing so in a way that can guarantee the safety of everyone who walks through your door.
- Supplies: Masks, gloves, disinfectants, and other personal protection equipment are in short supply. Take an inventory of what you have on hand and verify your ability to restock. Train your staff on being careful with how your supplies are used to safeguard against needless waste. Keep a close eye on your supply levels and track how they’re being used. Build up a surplus, if you can responsibly. You don’t want to start seeing patients only to have to shut down again because you were not properly prepared. That will send the wrong message.
- Staff: Clinicians and employees who are ill, who have been exposed to COVID-19, or who are immunocompromised, may not be able to work for some time. Others may have issues such as lack of childcare. Communicate with your team, verify their availability, and address their concerns compassionately and wisely.
Your goal is to re-establish a successful and thriving practice. If you had one before the pandemic, you will likely have one again, but it will be a gradual process. Don’t try and rush it. There are many areas where we must simply wait and see—supply levels, infection and testing rates, and safety precaution effectiveness, both in terms of not spreading infection, and in terms of creating a functional office setting. Once you have a better handle on those issues, you can consider relaxing restrictions and treating more patients. While it can be inconvenient, in the long run, your patients and staff will appreciate the cautious approach.
The situation is still very fluid. Social distancing and extra precautions may be necessary until a vaccine is available. Because of this, you need to stay flexible in order to be functional.
Do You Have Questions About Listing Your Dental Practice for Sale? DDSmatch Southwest Has Answers
If you have considered listing your dental practice for sale, we here at DDSmatch Southwest are here to help. You likely have a lot of questions about what a dental practice transition will look like post-COVID, or if they are even possible right now. We are part of a nationwide network that has been actively consulting with dental industry professionals, including dental CPAs, dental attorneys, dental lenders, and other dental practice transition specialists, to keep up-to-date on how the landscape is changing. The good news is that dental practice transitions are still happening, and however difficult change may be, it always comes along with new opportunities.