Sherali Patel discusses ways hygienists and therapists can better prepare their patients for their first appointments post lockdown.
Dentistry has undergone rapid transformations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of these changes happen across weeks, compared to the years it would have taken if not for the time pressure of COVID-19. These changes have come with confusion, uncertainty and even frustration. And our patients have equally needed guidance.
As more and more dental practices open, there is no doubt that there is a lot of new guidance and procedures we have to implement. With all of these practical alterations, this article will aim to provide some tips to ease the transition for patients back into dental care.
This is where a combined effort from the team is integral in communicating with the patient running up to the day of their visit.
Confirm, confirm and confirm!
Calling your patient to confirm their appointment in advance is of utmost importance. Understandably, there is going to be a long waiting list of patients. Your receptionist will play an important role in this. They will be the ones to be first in contact with these patients. Now is the time to be disciplined, more than ever, when communicating with your regular ‘fail-to-attends’.
If you know you have a nervous patient booked in, call them beforehand! Explain to them the changes you are making, and anything to expect when they arrive for their appointment. Trust me, these patients will appreciate this gesture. They won’t know what to expect if they don’t have any prior information.
A patient may also feel more at ease talking to the clinician who has been treating them, rather than the receptionist. So having the call come from you instead will go a long way. This will not only build upon your rapport, but the patient will be more likely to trust you underneath all the PPE.
Similarly, you will have the regular attending patients who will need an equal approach. These are the patients who have been coming for years and know what to expect for every visit. It’s vital that either you, or the receptionist, explain the changes prior to their appointment. Whether it be the now preferred payment method, or even what treatments are allowed and which are not regarding COVID-19. This will save a lot of time and potential upset on the day of their appointments.
Any information is good information
Finally, if possible, allow your patients to know who they will be seeing for their appointment on the day. This will be even more important if it is someone different than who they’re used to. Whilst wearing layers of PPE, it is already difficult for some patients to recognise you. So if you end up being a different person entirely, this may confuse them.
You want to make the most of your appointment time, so confirming this beforehand will save a lot of time on the day.
2. During the appointment
Aside from providing the actual treatment, there are aspects during the appointment that may come as a new challenge.
We like to ask our patients how they are and how their day has been. It gives the appointment a welcoming, friendly start and opens up any discussion the patient may want to have.
However, this small ‘nice’ gesture has become even more important. Ask your patient how the lockdown has treated them, and how they have coped.
Each individual would have dealt with it differently. Your 20-year-old patient may have loved every day of it. But your more elderly patient may have struggled throughout. So it is important that you ‘check-up’ on this at the beginning of your appointment.
Oral hygiene instruction
The PPE you will have on may prevent effective oral hygiene instruction. Fortunately, most of your patients will understand this situation and some may not even need any further oral hygiene advice!
However, on occasion, you may get a patient who hasn’t kept a brushing routine the past three months. These are the patients where a little oral hygiene instruction is better than none at all. Talking through your mask may prove impossible, in which case hand your patient a mirror! Point to the areas they have missed. At least this will provide some guidance for your patient to take home.
For the hygienists and therapists who may want a more in-depth demonstration, the brightly coloured plaque-dye tablets will be a saviour. This takes roughly three to four minutes at the beginning of the patient’s appointment. Getting the patient to chew the tablet, then showing them in the mirror where they missed will cut out the time having to tell them by muffling in your mask. The visual alone will provide a lot of guidance.
Some of your patients may even be using the Oral-B’s Genius or Smart Series toothbrushes. These connect to the Oral-B app to track their brushing style and habits. Something you can check up on during their visit. They may implement this app into their routine, so it is worth asking and having a look.
You may want to go through a treatment plan with your patient, who is perhaps in the middle of it or even just starting out. Communicating this will prove difficult, especially to your elderly or hard of hearing patients. Don’t hesitate to write it down or type it up on your computer. Patients will appreciate this as they are more likely to understand, hence know what they’re agreeing to.
At least with this approach, it opens up the platform for them to ask questions or relay concerns, which you may even be able to answer at a later stage. This is something which may never come up if they don’t understand or hear you to begin with.
3. Follow up
If you found you weren’t able to communicate some important aspects of your patient’s treatment effectively due to your PPE, there is always a way!
A follow-up email for your patients will give them that reassurance that they are still receiving valued treatment amongst all the changes being made. This email could include a treatment plan you briefly discussed, or a personalised oral hygiene routine for them to implement at home. Going this extra mile will set you apart and your patient’s will appreciate this gesture. Similarly, a phone call would do the same trick. If you know they didn’t understand or hear something you said, or you wish to discuss something in more detail, call them.
To conclude, it is a confusing, fast pace time for all of us. Every day will bring a new challenge! The steps we can take to implement into our new ‘normal’ will help evolve the face of dentistry to deliver new models of care best suited for our patients.