How a “return to practice” will work for dentistry is a multifactorial concept, one made more complex by the ever-emerging concerns about clinical care and economic relief. And while dentists, dental associations and patients are all looking forward to resumption of routine care, there is a shared uncertainty in the recovery process and its pace.
It’s normal for practice owners, like all small business owners, to feel anxiety about the unknown. But, a productive way to gain an element of control is by creating sound processes, keeping flexible mindsets and feeling empathy for patients. The recommendations below are just a few of the many steps dentists can take to help sustain and support practices in uncertain times.
This year, spring cleaning may have gotten delayed, and now the process will be more detailed. Keep in mind that patients and staff will likely be more anxious about, and attentive to, infection control and sanitization.
Follow current CDC guidelines when disinfecting and cleaning the practice, with special focus on porous surfaces and electronics. Choose among EPA-registered disinfectants and follow the label directions and contact times for safe, effective use.
Communicate any new or changed appointment or office protocols to patients in plain-speak language. Use your website and pre-appointment reminders to detail the steps you are taking on their behalf, from disinfection of touchscreens after every patient to moving to paperless records.
As you get each area of the practice ready, audit supply needs and test or assess equipment functionality. When restocking supplies or replacing equipment, review the latest CDC guidelines and EPA mandates, allowing ample time for order deliveries. The goal is to provide a seamless patient experience that builds confidence.
Making a financial game plan
Like you, your patients are in financial situations that look very different than before the pandemic began. If they are navigating income loss, lack of dental benefits or insecurity about their financial future, they will be less likely to make appointments or say yes to treatment plans until a dental issue becomes an emergency. Commit to open, trust-based communication about treatment benefits and the risks of delaying essential care. Establish and maintain a sound financial policy that is transparent to patients, one that allows them to have payment flexibility. If you haven’t already, it may be time to explore patient financing solutions that facilitate treatment plan acceptance — without your practice always acting as the bank.
Just like putting on your own oxygen mask before helping others in an emergency, your own practice finances need to be stable so you can serve patients. During practice interruption, you may have benefitted from a line of credit, a lender’s hardship program or deferred loan payments due to COVID-19. You can continue to improve your cash flow by working with your financial institution, dental benefit plan, or state or federal relief programs, carefully choosing solutions that are the right fit for your practice.
Look for additional ways to flex your cash flow by deferring expenses without accruing interest. As a dental association member, you already benefit from negotiated savings on supplies and small equipment through The Dentists Supply Company, which can help reduce overhead on an ongoing basis. Now, using PayPal credit through TDSC.com, you also have the option to defer payments with no interest for up to six months.
Taking a patient-centric approach
Engaging and retaining current patients of record is more important now than ever. Have a structured call plan in place to book for anticipated reopening. Proactively reach out to patients to fill the schedule. Review canceled appointments and reschedule week-by-week, prioritizing those who are in mid-treatment and reaching out to those who are diagnosed but untreated.
Exercise flexibility and show that you are available and accommodating to patients, especially now that their work or childcare situations may have changed. Consider staying later one or two days a week, being open a day you were previously closed, or opening for half the day on Saturdays. And, you can leverage cost-effective telehealth appointments to connect with more patients in a way that works with their schedules.
While some practices may diversify services in pursuit of more patients, now is the time to concentrate on core business and double-down on skillful dentistry and your practice’s unique areas of expertise. Focus on what you do best, ensuring that your communication and marketing tactics highlight your expertise and exceptional care.
Support for your success
As you work toward the “new normal” in post-pandemic dentistry, know that you have an entire community to support and guide you. Your state dental association and The Dentists Supply Company are here to empower your practice with dedicated expertise, dentist-focused resources and supply savings.