Well we are seeing signs of the flattening of the curve and the hope is we will start to return to some degree of “normal” very soon. New Brunswick and Saskatchewan seem to be leading the charge in loosening restrictions. In Ontario, no timelines have been set but we have what the government is calling a “roadmap” for this process.
How this impacts the dental profession remains to be seen. The Saskatchewan plan called for dental offices to be included in the first phase of re-opening beginning on May 4th. The Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Saskatchewan has produced their guidelines as to required measures during this first phase.
It should be noted at the outset that the College acknowledges that members may wish to remain closed due to the shortage of PPE. At this time, shortages of PPE for dentistry is an ongoing problem. That means it will be important for dental team leaders to manage expectations of both team members and patients.
Managing expectations comes down to effective communication.
Whatever meeting platform you used (Zoom, GoToMeeting, etc.), everyone should have maintained some contact with their team during this time. Your team needs you to be the leader they look to during this crisis and that means they need to hear from you. If you have not done so already, it is not too late to start.
Communication with your patients is also vital. Myself and many of my consulting colleagues have emphasized the importance of social media videos linked to your website that can help you maintain that contact. However, calling patients to check in on their home care would also be a more personal way to demonstrate your leadership and commitment to their care. Again…better late than never. Start now if you have not done so already.
It is difficult to predict what the public response will be to the re-opening of dental offices. No doubt, some people are keen to return to the level of care they enjoyed pre-Covid-19. However, how quickly your patients get back to work and earning the income or having access to the benefit plans they need to pay for dentistry will also play an important role in how quickly they come back to your practice.
Others will be quite familiar with the new stories that discussed how dentistry can produce aerosols that may contribute to the spread of Covid-19 and could be reluctant to return for treatment.
Indeed, dentistry will be a changed world. And after all these weeks of being declared “unessential”, winning back the confidence of some members of the public will prove challenging. And that is where communication will be key once more.
The first step may be ensuring patients that it is safe to return for a service many of them have considered unpleasant to begin with and which they have now been advised is “unessential”. This is where you can use technology to your advantage.
Take your patients on a video tour of your office with particular attention paid to sterilization and protective measures. Demonstrate what you do to protect them and how you do it. Emphasize that you are in compliance with any measures outlined by your College to ensure their protection. Highlight any new measures you have invested in as a result of the current crisis. Post this on your social media pages as well as your own website for everyone to see.
On top of that, we need to make sure patients understand that good oral health actually IS essential to their overall health…and that dentistry is an essential service. One of the best ways we can achieve this is to make sure we stop referring to our hygiene services as “cleanings”. You have probably been told this before. Some of you may have even tried to change your language only to return to “cleanings” because nobody understood any other term you used.
Now, you have the attention of your patients in a way you have never had it before. Even with the measures you have introduced to protect them, they may still wonder if it is worth the risk to their health to come in for a “cleaning”. However, when you talk to them about their “hygiene therapy” or “hygiene maintenance” appointment, and you tell them how it removes bacteria from below the gum line…bacterial that can enter the bloodstream and cause inflammation in the body…inflammation that can compromise the immune system they need to be as strong as possible should they be exposed to CV19…NOW you may have their attention.
We know dentistry is going to be different when we come out of this crisis, even though we may not yet be sure exactly how different. Our goal is to make sure everyone steps up and finds a way to thrive in a changed world. That takes leadership and communication. It also takes planning.
So now is the time to develop your plan and discuss it with your team. If we can all do this, I am confident that dentistry will enjoy a strong recovery in the not too distant future.
About the Author
Shawn Peers is the President of Dental Peers.