Dental practices worldwide have adapted and adopted new processes, protective measures and steps within the patient appointment to align with recommendations, mandates and regulations that experts are instructing to keep doctors, team and patients safe during this time of COVID-19. As practices reopen and begin seeing scheduled patients once again, the questions are beginning to shift from “how do we take the steps to be safe and compliant” to “how do we overcome these obstacles we find ourselves faced with daily?”
As you have reopened, your primary focus and attention has been on getting everything you need and learning the steps to take for all safety measures – which is where your attention has needed to be undoubtedly. However, at the same time, there are areas of your practice that also need your attention and more than likely they will bubble up if not tended to with sound plans, approaches and processes. Most of the issues coming up now that practices are reopened are coming in the way of communication, efficiency and contingency.
Blind Spot #1: Lack of Patient Communication
If your practice is experiencing frustrating broken appointments and no shows or your patients are showing their own frustration and confusion at appointments, chances are you haven’t taken the necessary steps to communicate effectively to prepare them and build an appropriate expectation for what their appointment will look like now. From the way you check them in and pre-screen them to the increase in PPE you will be donning, it helps the mindset and commitment of the patient to know prior just what they can expect – just like you would do with a new patient prior to their first appointment.
Do you have a clear COVID patient check-in process in place? How are you communicating that to the patient prior to their appointment so that they are prepared? What is the patient appointment process and check-out process? If any of that has changed for you, as it most likely has, how have you communicated that to your patients? It is important that you convene as a team to work through the new process, get everyone on the same page and clear on those steps and then work through your verbal skills with the patients so that you can clearly communicate and prepare your patients. This helps reduce confusion, stress and anxiety when they arrive and experience their appointment. This also helps to get a more solid confirmation that they will indeed keep their appointment. Knowing the extra precautions that you are taking to keep them safe will give a leap of confidence to a large portion of your patients.
Blind Spot #2: Lack of Process Efficiency
With all of the extra steps, precautions, processes and measures you are taking, you may find that some of those steps are proving less efficient than desired. More than likely the patient check-in and COVID screening process could use some refinement. If you have a patient communication software in place for your practice, I highly recommend that you contact your company of choice and ask for a demonstration on updated and available resources within their platform that can make your patient appointments more efficient. Many of these companies have leveled up their services specifically to answer this need. You may not even know those tools are there! Explore within your existing software and patient communication tools ways that you can incorporate more “touchless” tools to help with this process. How can you streamline this portion of the appointment both for the benefit of your patients and you? Do you need to incorporate a new tool into your practice to help make it more efficient? What would be your goals and expectations of those tools? Seek out the solutions that are the answers to those goals and expectations and work as a team to incorporate them.
Great customer service can become clear by answering this question: How easy are you making it for your patients to attain what they want? In other words, how easy is it for your patients to schedule an appointment, receive their treatment, check out of their appointment, pay for their treatment, and so on? We are so caught up in the steps WE need to take that we are failing to really take a hard look at the steps THEY have to take and make sure we are putting their needs first. Cost, time, convenience and fear – these have always been at the top of the list of reasons why patients forego dental treatment. The COVID era will have only magnified those obstacles. So, as you implement this new approach to patient care, don’t forget to review your processes as a team weekly, even more if necessary, so that you can refine, refine, refine. Make it a goal that by the end of this month, it is a more seamless, efficient and safe experience for your patients. In doing so, you will find that the benefits will fall to you as well.
Blind Spot #3: Lack of a Contingency Plan
Dentistry has always been profoundly focused on taking the appropriate protective measures for safety. That has been represented 100% by the efforts that are being taken today to heighten safety. From increased PPE and adjusted appointment times to pre-screening processes and air filtration systems – you are going above and beyond to protect yourself, your team and your patients. Continue to focus on this.
While you work to reduce the risk of spread within your practice, the risk will ultimately come to you from outside your practice. Exposure to COVID during a social gathering or from a friend or family member, for example, could cause you or a member of your team to test positive. Then what? It is important and extremely necessary that you create a contingency plan, based upon government and health organization recommendations, and based upon what you learned during the shutdown period, for how you will handle a doctor or team member with symptoms or that has tested positive. Based upon who it is, you must have a plan for each scenario.
I know that the last thing you want to think about is how to reset your practice AGAIN. But, as we find team members and doctors alike beginning to test positive for the Coronavirus, the biggest stress has been the blind spot that they didn’t have a plan, didn’t know the next step and didn’t know how to navigate communicating, adjusting and dealing with the ramifications. Make a plan. Have it at the ready. My hope is that you will never have to use it. But, if you do, the goal will be that you can navigate that time as effectively and with as little confusion and stress as possible.
The fear of the unknown can cause great stress. No, we can’t know with certainty what may happen in the future, we can’t know how our patients, team and our practice will fare through these updates, precautions and the environment we find ourselves in at the moment. What we can have is clarity. Clarity as leaders and as a team on the processes and procedures we put in place and the care we will continue to provide for our patients.
Remember, don’t lead your patients blindly through their appointments by lack of communication, don’t exhaust yourselves unnecessarily through process inefficiencies, and don’t get blindsided by COVID because of lack of a contingency plan. Be prepared. Be practiced. Be confident. Believe in bringing your very best and work as a team to make it happen. It’s happening in many practices right now and so I know it can happen for you, too.
About the Author
Carrie Webber is co-owner of The Jameson Group, a dental management, marketing and hygiene coaching firm that works with dental practices to strengthen their business, hygiene, marketing, communication & leadership systems & skills in order to become more productive, more profitable and less stressed. Jameson is celebrating 30 years of impactful work in dentistry. Carrie is a contributing author to multiple publications on the topics of dental business, leadership, marketing and team development, and is a presenter on these topics to dental professionals at conferences and events. Carrie has been named a Dentistry Today Leader in CE for the past two years.
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