Post-COVID Strategies That Focus on Patients

Trying times give us the chance to discover our strengths and weaknesses and reevaluate our practices. In dental care, it’s a good idea to reevaluate how you’re doing from time to time. When you make an extra effort to show compassion toward your patients and their individual concerns, not only will they be grateful for your empathy, but it can also secure their long-term support. The steps you take to reshape your approach to dental treatment and patient communication post-COVID can work in your favor and help your patients see you as a healthcare provider who’s willing to adapt and work with them no matter the circumstances.

When you decide to list your dental office for sale, your financial “value” is measured in numbers. But no number can truly quantify the positive impact you can have on your community and your patients. Be an influence for good during this unpredictable time! Vow to give your patients the care they need and provide them with a sense of safety. 

Dr. Jessica Meeske, vice chair of the ADA Council on Advocacy for Access and Prevention, said, “My advice is not to practice in fear . . . patients need dental care and we have the responsibility and privilege to provide it.” In a time when patients are worrying about so many other aspects of their lives, you can help lessen some of their fears by offering safe, reliable, compassionate care.

How to Practice Compassionate Care

Your goal as an established dental professional should be to provide patients the best possible treatment while prioritizing their safety.

Maybe you’ve never taken advantage of technology in the past, but now’s a great time to start. Utilize tele-dentist visits and electronic communication with patients to show you’re willing to take extra precautions. Sometimes patients simply have questions that can be answered over the phone or over the Internet, so let them choose that option if it’s appropriate. You can save time and money with virtual visits because you won’t have to worry about sterilizing equipment and finding staff to be in the office.

Surveys can also be a helpful tool in determining what exactly your patients need from you at this time. You can give your patients the opportunity to rate their experience at your office or simply ask them after the visit if there’s anything that could have been done differently. Promote the idea of patient-centered care by implementing patient feedback in your daily practices. Many patients are concerned about infection control, so do everything you can to fulfill their safety expectations. 

With so much information available with the click of a button, patients may question your practices and want to know what measures you are taking to protect them. Don’t shy away from their questions. Take the time to discuss your new safety protocols and explain why you feel these measures are necessary and effective. Talk to your staff and be sure everyone is on the same page and knows what these measures are. In short, continue to provide your patients with a higher standard of dental care while increasing the amount of time spent disinfecting patient rooms and equipment between appointments.

Be Understanding in Your Patient Communication

What do you want your dental practice to be known for? The first time a patient sees a sign on your building, you are communicating with them. What kind of message do you want to convey? Marketing plays an important role in patient communication. Be sure your brand is known for the right reasons.

Many factors will come into play when you place your dental office for sale. Patients and other dentists will want to know just what you did post-COVID to establish more effective practices. Patients will want their questions and concerns answered, even if to you they may seem repetitive or mundane. Be upfront with your patients and share your protocols for infection control, treatment, PPE, etc so they can feel confident in your processes. To establish empathetic patient communication, strive to do the following:

  • Don’t act too casual about any topic a patient brings up. There is a lot of misinformation out there and patients want to know you take their concerns seriously.
  • Listen to what your patients are saying to you and respond to their questions. Be interested in what’s interesting to them.
  • Share your professional observations about the situation and explain the steps you and your staff are taking to address their issues.
  • Try to stay upbeat and positive and don’t dismiss a patient question or concern. 

You should always try to be empathetic with your patients, but go the extra mile to alleviate fears and concerns that may crop up due to the pandemic. Patients are already a little nervous and uneasy about going to the dentist, and may appear even more so post-COVID. If you can’t personally address their concerns, work with your staff to develop a more effective patient outreach program where patients can be heard and express their fears.

Think about your marketing goals and if they need to change. If your patients are primarily considered with equipment sterilization, trying to market your practice by emphasizing your background and experience as a dentist may not be enough. A simple message on Facebook like, “At our practice we protect you and your family with our thorough equipment sterilization procedures” can go a long way toward making patients feel comfortable with choosing your office for their dental procedure. If Twitter has been effective for you in the past, use that social media platform to connect with your patients. Engaging with your patients through social media is a great way to receive feedback to help guide your marketing.

If your business has declined dramatically since the pandemic, reach out to local news organizations to see if your office can be featured. In a news article or TV spotlight you’ll have the opportunity to talk about your health protocols and safety measures and ease the minds of your patients and potential patients.

How to Find Out if Your Brand is Working For You

Just like the McDonald’s golden arches are recognized worldwide, your brand says a lot about what your practice stands for. If your brand is not a great reflection of your practice, now is the perfect time to adjust it. Your brand includes your name, the name of your practice, and any other terms, designs, symbols, or marks that identifies your dental practice as distinct from all of the others. You want your brand to be recognizable and earn the confidence of patients everywhere. 

Ask yourself if your brand is who you want to be, and spend time reflecting on the values and services you want people to associate with your office. 

If you’re struggling to create an effective brand, write down words to describe your practice. Are you patient-focused? Do you create a friendly environment? What do patients feel when they walk into your office? This exercise will help you determine what your brand should look like.

To have an authentic brand, you have to be honest and accurate. You want your branding to be a reflection of your core values as an organization. You want to build trust among your patients. Trust is essential in fostering goodwill when it comes time to list your dental office for sale. Inaccurate branding can cause you to lose business, turning patients away from your practice before they even meet you or your staff. 

Now that you’ve established a reliable brand, look at your marketing to see if you’re presenting the kind of image you want others to associate with you. Your Facebook page, for example, should not be at odds with your website. Both platforms should highlight the positive qualities of your practice and your staff and maintain a consistent theme throughout. If you want to be seen as involved in your community, engage in community activities that promote your brand identity. Share pictures of you and your staff at the local food bank or whatever it is so your patients will know that you practice what you preach.

Helping Patients Find Financial Solutions

Currently in the United States, 11% of people are unemployed. “The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits over the last four months is worse than any other time in modern history.” from CNBC.com

Many people who have lost their jobs recently have also lost their health insurance coverage, meaning they’ll likely postpone dental cleanings and appointments for the time being. During this unprecedented time, you should be extra sensitive to your patients’ financial needs and be willing to offer financial assistance if possible. Some things you can do to help ease their financial burdens include: 

  • Offering incentives beyond the usual past promotions, such as dental cleanings at a set cost without insurance for a limited time. Encourage your patients not to put off their exams and remind them you care about their dental health.
  • Third-party financing can help patients in some cases. Find out which third-party financing options will work with your clinic and offer them as an option. Be aware of payback periods and interest requirements. Take time to do your own research and only pick a company you feel comfortable working with.
  • Membership plans or in-house financing can offset the cost of major procedures such as root canals or fillings. Allow your patients to make smaller payments so they can get the needed treatment without stressing about the cost.

For the past few months many dental practices have operated at a loss, and the financial solutions offered above take this into account. When you work with your patients to help them find the right financing options, you show them you’re invested in a long-term dental-patient relationship. 

Easier Scheduling Options 

With people out of work and kids home for the longest summer ever, some patients may have difficulty figuring out a time to see the dentist that works with their new schedule. Giving your patients a variety of options for their appointments will definitely be appreciated. 

Many dentists have made the decision to only see patients one at a time to prevent a crowded waiting room. Some have patients wait in their car until their temperatures have been taken and their face masks are in place. Be sensitive to your patients’ concerns and do all you can to make them feel safe while in your office. 

Consider the following options:

  • Offer early morning, evening, or even weekend appointments
  • Allow more of a time gap between appointments to limit the number of patients in your reception area. This will also give you adequate time to disinfect and sterilize your necessary supplies.
  • Use teledentistry if you need to pre-screen or diagnose patients. This option provides physical distancing and the opportunity to schedule their treatment when it fits their schedule (and yours).

Though the above-mentioned practices will require extensive time and planning, reinforcing great relationships with your patients is worth it. You want patients to leave your office feeling like you have their health and safety as your number one priority. They’ll be more likely to come back and see you for their next dental procedure if they feel you’re doing all you can to earn and keep their trust.

Want to List Your Dental Office for Sale? ddsmatch Southwest Can Help

ddsmatch Southwest are dental practice transition specialists focused on assisting dentists in the Texas and New Mexico areas. For buyers looking for a dental office for sale, you can view our available practices here. Our specialty is making your dental practice transition as smooth and rewarding as possible. Our benchmarks for success are your unique, individual goals being fulfilled. We are here to work for you. Contact us today. 

Recognize and Address COVID-Related Stress in Your Dental Office

Across the nation dental offices that were closed for weeks or months due to the COVID-19 pandemic are finally back up and running, at least part time. However, they are back with several profound differences that make a big impact in the lives of dentists and their staff. For the health and safety of the community it is important to follow the safety protocols set by your local government. However, we must still acknowledge that the current state of things may lead to increased stress and anxiety. When your staff returns to work it is important to be aware of how they are performing their daily tasks. Running a successful dental practice depends on having reliable staff members. If your employees are acting differently or seem distracted it can be a serious problem, especially if you are considering selling a dental practice in the next five years.

Stress and anxiety can come from many different factors related to the pandemic. Financial pressures from weeks or months without work may be mounting. You or your staff members may know someone who is sick, in the hospital, or has died due to COVID-19. Concern about keeping at-risk family and friends safe may cause your staff to feel unsure if they should return to work. Finding safe and reliable childcare options is especially difficult with schools and daycare centers closing or reducing their capacities. The bottom line is, COVID-related stress and anxiety affects everyone in some capacity.

For dentists, hygienists, and other dental office staff members, fears over contracting COVID-19 are not unfounded. A recent study looked at how likely individuals in certain occupations are to contract the disease. After evaluating data that considered the job’s frequency of contact with others, physical proximity, and exposure to disease, researchers assigned scores to different occupations. These scores revealed that dental hygienists are at the highest risk for contracting COVID-19 at work. In fact, dental hygienists scored 99.7 out of a possible 100. Dental assistants and dentists were not far behind at 92.5 and 92.1, respectively.

As a small business owner and healthcare professional, whether or not you plan on selling a dental practice in the near future, the health and safety of your staff and patients is vitally important. In order to reopen, many dental practices have spent thousands of dollars on new PPE equipment and cleaning supplies, and invested hours of time into training staff members. However, the health and safety of your staff relies on more than following physical safety protocols. The new normal of increased risk puts a psychological strain on your staff members who must quickly learn to work in this environment.

Speaking about the link between physical and mental wellbeing Bernadette Melnyk, dean of the College of Nursing and chief wellness officer at Ohio State explains, “physical and mental health are closely intertwined” which is why you must take time for both. Melnyk continues, “while you practice good hygiene and physical distancing in the office, you should also practice stress-reduction.” In addition, Dr. K. Luan Phan, chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at Ohio State Wexner Medical Center, explains that the current situation can affect everyone. According to Dr. Phan, “uncertainty and unpredictability can really create an unhealthy amount of fear and stress, especially when it’s sustained over such a long period of time.” 

It can be easy to take one of two approaches to working during the pandemic. Either ignoring the signs of stress and anxiety, or responding with fear. However, ignoring the signs and symptoms of stress, in yourself or your staff, will not make it go away. In fact, it can make it worse. In addition, anxiety the coronavirus has introduced is real, and for many it is scary. But responding with fear will not allow you to manage your stress in a healthy way. 

We want to encourage you to respond to stress and anxiety appropriately, by neither ignoring nor giving into fear. Below we will help you recognize the signs of anxiety and stress, and provide tips on how you and your staff members can manage your wellbeing. These tips are helpful for all doctors and their staff members, whether or not selling a dental practice is in your five year plan.

Identifying the Problem

Most of us can admit that even if we love our jobs, they are often a source of stress. Now that the day-to-day stress is compounded with COVID-related stress you and your staff are likely feeling its effects across multiple areas of your lives. However, not everyone will feel stressed about exactly the same thing. Here are some of the COVID-related factors that lead to added stress and anxiety:

  • Potential exposure to COVID-19 at work
  • Spending time away from family
  • Finding safe and reliable childcare
  • Lack of proper tools or equipment to do your job effectively
  • Adjusting to unfamiliar tasks and a different office rhythm
  • Concerns about job stability and the future of the industry
  • Fears that your efforts are not making a difference
  • Concerns about your practice’s valuation if you plan on selling a dental practice soon

As we mentioned above, stress and anxiety manifests itself mentally and physically. A recent survey of dental office workers revealed a wide range of discomforting symptoms in those who are now using PPEs due to pandemic protocols. According to the survey “workers… reported experiencing dry eyes, sore throat, rash, runny nose, pressure blister on nose bridge, coughing at night, TMJ discomfort, eyestrain, tight chest, chapped lips, ear pressure, occlusion changes, clogged ears, bloating, itchy tingling skin, bloody nose, intermittent PVCs, facial muscle twitches, and sleep apnea.” In addition, over 50% of respondents reported experiencing a sense of dehydration, headaches, mental fatigue, profuse sweating, and exhaustion.

The goal in identifying these stress factors is not to instill fear, but to help you and your staff members address them head on. As a dental practice owner it is important for you to create an environment where your staff feels safe to express their concerns and get help. When your staff is calm and confident your office will run smoother and it will be easier to ensure your patient’s safety and wellbeing. If you are selling a dental practice soon you should be concerned with creating stability for your buyer.

Be Aware of the Signs

How do you recognize the signs of stress in your dental office staff? You have likely worked with your staff day in and day out for years. Think about how they act in normal situations, and whether their “normal” has changed since returning to work. If their behavior and demeanor seems off it may be a sign that they have concerns about returning to work. Here are some of the signs you should be aware of in your staff:

  • Decreased productivity and difficulty meeting deadlines
  • Inability to concentrate and make decisions
  • Pulling back from work related activities
  • Changes in emotional behavior such as irritability, anxiousness, and depression
  • An increase in missing work or calling in sick
  • Difficulty adapting to changes around the office
  • Struggling with sleep
  • A general feeling of exhaustion and being overwhelmed
  • Difficulty concentrating while at work

Of course, everyone has bad days here and there whether or not there is a pandemic. But if you notice the above signs in your staff for longer than a week it is time to step in.

How You Can Help Your Staff

Creating a safe and stable environment in your office is important whether or not you are selling a dental practice. Make it a point to talk openly about stress and anxiety at your weekly meeting. Remind your staff members that you are here to help, and open to suggestions on how to lower stress in the workplace. Offer encouragement and understanding. Be open to staff members who come to you with problems.

If you notice any of the above signs in your employees take time to personally sit down with them and discuss how they are feeling. If your employee seems reluctant to share their concerns try relating your own stress and anxieties about the pandemic. Let them know it is important to talk together honestly so you can find a solution together. Be an active listener, and let them know you are looking to help them. You should also ask for recommendations on how to make changes that will make a difference. 

A major area of stress may arise from wearing additional PPE, a procedure which was likely unfamiliar to you and your staff pre-COVID. In order to cope with wearing additional PPE, consider the following measures:

  • Schedule frequent breaks in PPE for hydration, healthy snacks, and stretching
  • Require every staff member (including you) to take a lunch hour
  • Make sure you are getting enough fruits and vegetables, and stay away from salty foods
  • Consider putting off or delegating tasks if workloads are too high
  • Teach nasal breathing techniques
  • Make a habit of taking deep abdominal breaths when washing your hands
  • Encourage your staff to know and communicate their limits
  • Get outside daily for fresh air and exercise
  • Find activities you enjoy outside of work
  • Get at least 7-9 hours of sleep every night
  • Know that feeling a variety of emotions is normal
  • Take time to ensure children and other family members are being cared for
  • Seek out resources when you need help – check the ADA website for resources by state

Whether or not you have dealt with stress and anxiety in the past, the current pandemic presents a new dynamic for us all. With such a great amount of uncertainty it makes sense to feel anxious about the future. Remind your staff that it is ok to feel stress, fear, or anxiety, and that they are not alone. Open and honest communication will help your office work together for the good of everyone. Take time to tell your staff that they are an integral part of the work you do, and you recognize their dedication every day. 

Taking Care of Yourself

It makes sense to be proactive about the wellbeing of your staff, but remember that without you there is no practice for them to work in. The increased pressure and stress of the pandemic, which may coincide with selling a dental practice, will likely impact your performance and your ability to lead. But it can be difficult to recognize the signs of stress in your own life. However, as we mentioned above, ignoring these signs does not make them go away and will often make things worse. Take some time to think about your life over the past few months. Have you felt more tired or irritable? Are you sleeping less than usual? Are you drinking more or eating less? These are all physical manifestations of stress and anxiety. Read through the advice given above and take some time to implement it in your own life.

It is important to remember that significant changes need to be made in your life in order to adjust to the current situation. We are still in control of how we respond to each new problem that comes our way. Responding immediately with an emotional reaction will only serve to heighten your stress and fear. When you accept the reality of these changes and adjust accordingly you will be much better off. 

If you are having trouble dealing with the current situation don’t be afraid to reach out to someone for help. A trusted friend or family member may be able to help you sort through your feelings and find a solution. If you are feeling overwhelmed, depressed, or discouraged you should consider seeking out a professional for help. Use the ADA resources to find someone near you.

Selling a Dental Practice? ddsmatch Southwest is Here For You

At ddsmatch Southwest we are not experts in mental health. But we do know that transitioning your dental practice can come with added stress and anxiety, even in normal times. Our experts are investing in helping you successfully transition your practice. If you are considering transitioning your dental practice in the next five years, you likely have a lot of questions. We encourage you to reach out to our transition experts to learn more about selling a practice during the pandemic, or preparing your practice for sale in the future. 

As industry experts, we are here to help you make the best choices for the future of your practice. Call us today to learn more.

Planning for Pandemic Recovery

You may be tired of hearing about how we are living in an unprecedented time, however, there is really no other way to describe it. If you are like most people, you are unsettled about being away from your office, about the structure of your life being upended, and about what you’re going to do once you can get back to your practice. You are worried about your staff and your patients. The fact is that we are all feeling the same way—we are in this together. While we can’t do much about the uncertainty that doesn’t mean we can’t do anything.

Even if you aren’t able to work in your business, you can still work on your business. The reality is that the practice of dentistry is going to change—even if only for a time—until we’re certain that our normal routines can be returned to. It’s not too early to be thinking about— and planning for—how you need to adapt to the new landscape.

In thinking about how your practice will need to adapt, there is some good news. First,  dentistry is largely a relationship business. There is a reason that as most of the value of a dental practice is goodwill. If you’re well established in your community, the odds are in your favor that your practice can return to pre-pandemic levels of production (with the exception of cosmetic procedures, which may lag behind general care). It certainly won’t be in the first month or two, but, with patience and ingenuity, you can get there. People are going to want to go to the dentist, especially those who have had to postpone treatment. And given all of the change we’ve experienced, it’s highly unlikely they’ll be looking for a new doctor.

With this in mind, here are some things that you can be doing right now to keep your practice alive and ready to open again.

Stay in contact with your staff. They are your most valuable asset. Be sure that you are speaking with them at least weekly to reassure and update them as to your plans and the status of your practice. Regardless of the status of your practice, you can even keep up weekly office meetings and brainstorm ideas for recovery.

Make sure someone is available to answer your phones. If you have to cut staff, whatever you do, make sure the phone is answered. Always. If there is a chance to lose patients (or a chance to bring in new ones) letting calls go unanswered will encourage them to go elsewhere.

Stay in contact with your patients. People are tired of COVID 19 based marketing emails, so be judicious. Your message should be one of compassion. Let them know you are concerned about their health and safety. Let them know that you are available for emergency procedures, if you offer that. Set up a teledentistry system and let your patients know you are available for treatment that way. The message here is that even if your office isn’t open, you are still available if they need you. Make use of your social media channels to keep these messages out there. Use them to provide education and information about post-COVID dentistry.

Be working on a marketing plan. Keep your finger on the pulse of your community so you can reflect its take on the current situation. People everywhere are frightened, frustrated, uncertain, and, often, unsure of who to trust for accurate information. As a doctor, you are uniquely qualified to provide reliable information. With an empathetic approach, you can use that position to reassure your patients and community. Again, the goal here is not to sell but to communicate compassion and to educate.

As time to reopen draws closer, send an email to your patients describing (perhaps in detail), your sterilization methods and protective measures. Make a few short videos demonstrating the process to include in the email, on your website, and on your social media. Emphasize that your methods are at or above hospital standards.

Consider how your office appears to patients. Walk through the front door and try to imagine their experience. Consider what you might want to change if you are limited in the number of patients you can have in your office at a given time. Think about how you want to present your sterilization procedures. You may want to open sterile packages in front of patients and let them see the cleaning procedures. While it is not necessary that they understand everything, the goal here is reassurance. Help them to feel they are in a safe environment.

Consider opening in stages. For instance, start just with exams. Patients can come into the office for a short, low cost appointment and get used to the new circumstances. This can help them feel more comfortable but also address some issues they may have since they’ve gone without treatment. Then add in cleanings and so on.

Reconsider your pricing. Where you may see some of the biggest change is in the amount of unemployment among your patients. Many of them have lost their jobs. Some will get right back to work again, but not all. There will be both a loss of income and loss of dental insurance. This is something you need to be thinking about as you get ready to open your office again. You may want to consider doing special promotions with discounted exams and cleanings, especially for new patients. You may want to consider a subscription service where you offer a packaged plan of preventive care and offer it to uninsured patients at an affordable price point. You want to make it easy for patients to come in and get treatment.

Also reconsider how you present treatment plans. Instead of presenting everything all at once, you may want to break it down into stages based on importance. You will need to be sensitive to costs to your patients and provide them with flexibility in being able to accept treatment. 

Be flexible in your thinking. There is no question that it will be some time before we are back to business as usual. We’ve offered some suggestions of things you can do but, like everyone else, we are not certain how things will play out. We will all need to be adaptable as circumstances change. And though we may struggle with the unpredictability, that is not a reason to lose hope. Rather, make the most of a unique situation to brainstorm solutions and explore interesting options.

ddsmatch is Here to Help Where We Can

If you have been thinking about selling a dental practice, or buying a dental practice, there is good news there as well. Lenders across the country are echoing what our partners at Blue & Co. are saying about the effect of this crisis on the dental industry—its an interruption of business but not a change to the business. Banks have always been very favorable to dental practice loans because dentists are very good at paying their bills on time. Lenders are anticipating this will still be the case. 

We’ve had a number of doctors reaching out to us during the last several weeks. It is clear that many older dentists are considering moving up their retirement plans rather than deal with the recovery. Also, younger and mid-career dentists are thinking it may be time to leave their dental associateships and go out on their own. If you are curious about your options and want to talk it over, we are here for you, with no obligation. Please feel free to give us a call at 855-546-0044 or message us through our website

COVID-19 Practice Management Resources from the ADA and TAGD

During these uncertain times it can be difficult to know where to turn for information. Many doctors and their staff are wondering what will await us on the other side of the pandemic. While it’s difficult to say, there are some good resources that can help guide you as you make decisions about your dental practice, staff members, and patients. We recommend you take time to review some of the following links.

The ADA has a page dedicated to COVID-19 Practice Resources. It includes links to pages with information about employment and staff issues, security, patient communication, vendors and third party payers, and general practice guidance.

The Texas Academy of General Dentistry has sponsored several free CE webinars about different issues related to COVID-19, including ones on best human resource practices, infection control strategies, and on mitigating the impact of the disease. They have been recorded and made available through the TAGD website

Here at ddsmatch Southwest, we had been looking forward to gathering with many of you at the annual spring events, the Texas Dental Association Meeting (which has been cancelled) and the New Mexico Dental Association Fiesta (which may occur in an online capacity, if feasible). We will miss interacting with you in person, for the time being, and wish you and your loved ones the best during these trying times. Please stay safe and be well.