How Your Practice Can Survive the Pandemic

Debra Engelhardt-Nash
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To say that this time in the dental industry is unprecedented would be an understatement. States have mandates to close dental offices as well as other industries until mid-May and mid-June. Others have strong recommendations from their state organizations and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to limit patient care to emergency care only. 

There are so many resources to determine what to do and how to handle this potentially devastating situation. Some of it borders on fake news sensationalism, but the end result, whatever the source, is real. Dentistry is currently shut down in most parts of the country and will not come back as “business as usual.”

Like many, I have been listening to podcasts and webinars and reading articles from esteemed colleagues. There are some excellent, relevant, and important resources that can help doctors and teams navigate through this storm.

And what gives me solace during this time is the outpouring of caring and generosity from people working in the dental world. Some doctors are more concerned about keeping their team and their patients safe and what is going to happen to employees who now have to apply for unemployment than their own safety and livelihood.

Dental professionals are reaching out to help each other. Consultants are deferring or suspending their fees to stay on board and help their clients through this murky time in their practices. Supply houses, dental labs, and banks are working with doctors to lift their financial obligations during this period of economic upheaval. At this time, generosity is prolific in our industry. 

I am not licensed to provide legal or financial counsel, but there are great folks in our industry who can help and want to help. I can offer doctors some non-legal suggestions. I can’t say I am coming from a place of experience because, like you, I haven’t experienced anything like this before. But here are some ideas to consider.

Your Patients

Your social media response is critical at this time. Don’t stop or slow down this vital communication tool. It’s time to ramp it up. Enhance your views by adding live content on your site. Record a video from the doctor regarding the state of your office during this time. Keep it short—under two minutes. Call Janice Hurleyor other experts to find out how to record a video that puts you in the best light. 

It might be fun to have your team members record what they are doing with their time away from the office and send it on to your patients (if appropriate). Or, give your patients an update that your team is all right and will be back when the closure recommendation is over.

Avoid having everything on your social media be about the COVID-19 pandemic. Your viewers may like a break from all of the noise. How about posting why it will be so critical to return for their hygiene appointments? Although hygiene isn’t considered essential at this time, it is an important part of overall health, and patients should get back on track as soon as they can. 

Use social media or a patient communication system such as Revenue Well, Solution Reach, or Lighthouse360 to send messages to re-care patients about future dentistry and future appointments. Give them tips on how to take better care of their mouths at home. You may have to add some time in your doctors’ and hygiene schedule to accommodate those patients whose treatment was delayed due to office shutdowns.

Offer virtual consultations through your social media resources, such as your Instagram page and website. This is a great way to continue to have a presence with potential new patients. It’s also a great way to reach more people. And yes! There are people who will need and want dentistry when this crisis is over.

CEATUS Media Group has designed an invitation for patients to register for a virtual consult with great website and social media content. Rita Zamora has great social media suggestions for communicating in a crisis. 

If you haven’t done so already, it may be time to add online scheduling technology to your website. A Pew Research study shows that 77% of people start their search for health information online, and online scheduling enables your patients to schedule an appointment when you aren’t there. Companies like LocalMed, Simplify, and others can provide online scheduling support 24/7. 

This is a good time to spread goodwill. Doctors can call their patients to check in and let them know how much they matter. Weave provides a HIPPAA-compliant system that lets you reach out to patients and monitor the office from home. Utilize the text messaging feature provided by your patient communication system to continue to keep in touch with patients. Have calls forwarded to a HIPPAA-compliant number so you can be in daily touch with patient care. Can the team make these calls for you? It doesn’t have the same impact as when doctors place the call themselves. Trust me.

Your Team

If you have closed your office due to state mandates or CDC and state recommendations, they you may have made a difficult decision in laying off most if not all of your team. This was not an easy decision, and it’s a somber announcement that will affect the lives and livelihood of you and your team members. There are talented professionals who can guide you through the potentially confusing protocols of employee layoffs.

Paul Edwards of CEDR HR Solutions is an excellent resource. He has a live broadcast on Facebook called HR Base Camp that provides sound advice about dealing with employees and government aid. Tim Twigg of Bent Ericksen Practice Personnel Systems can also offer guidance. 

Hopefully, doctors are working with a dental-specific CPA who will have enhanced acumen to help them with financial strategies and bridge solutions during office closures. The Academy of Dental CPAs can help you locate someone who will suit you and your practice. You will need professional guidance to help you understand the stimulus package and how it applies to you. They can also help you with employment layoff strategies. Remember, there’s friendly advice, and there’s legal advice. One you want to hear, and the other you need to hear.

To keep your team informed, establish a Zoom meeting account for yourself and team members to have ongoing meetings while you are closed. Check in with each other weekly. Establish an agenda and rotate the facilitator. Create a plan for your return. What do you want to do differently when you get back to work?

Create an office book of the month club. Send each team member a book you would like them to read to help them learn how to improve the practice when you return. (I can give you a lot of suggestions!) Maybe each team member could choose a book of the month (hopefully there will only be one or two) to share. 

This is not the time to quit but to recalibrate. Have a daily agenda of office items that require your attention. A new budget? Webinar training? Get online and watch a demo of a new system or product. Is it time to develop a better plan for future growth?

Some people will stay stuck during this time and fall prey to depression and disappointment. It’s harder to start moving from a dead stop. Keep moving. Reach out to the exceptional resources that are offering assistance. Be prepared to lead the celebration when your practice returns to the new normal.

Ms. Engelhardt-Nash is a founding member and served two terms as president of the National Academy of Dental Management Consultants. An active member of the American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA), she also serves on the Board of the ADAA Foundation. She is also a Fellow in the International Academy of Dental Facial Esthetics. She has been listed in Dentistry Today as a Leader in Continuing Dental Education and Dental Consulting since 2001. In 2008, she received the Kay Moser Distinguished Service Award given by the ADAA. She was the recipient of the 2015 Gordon Christensen Speaking Award as well. She can be reached at debraengelhardtnash@gmail.com and at debraengelhardtnash.com.

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