Throughout the pandemic, dentists and the professionals in their practices have provided crucial care while facing once unimaginable circumstances. Today, many are exhausted, stretched thin, and in need of relief. The good news is that although there is no silver bullet—hint: technology alone is not the answer—there is a path forward.
In the beginning of the pandemic, when the threat of COVID-19 was raw and unknown, our call centers at Solutionreach experienced a 500% increase in call volume as dentists shuttered their practices. At first, we all assumed it was a short-term situation, but as the pandemic continued, it became clear that collectively we faced something bigger.
The dentists we worked with were concerned, their fear palpable. Even though we were helping practices communicate closures to their patients, no one knew how long they would last. It was also hard to discern how much this would impact long-term patient engagement and retention, potentially losing years of investment in relationships and care.
As days turned to weeks, I saw the impact on our team members too. We took steps to manage the situation as best we could, mindful that it would be a tough journey no matter what. There is no escaping the pain when you scale your workload overnight.
However, there was a silver lining. While helping our customers face some of the most difficult moments for their practices, we crystallized our mission. We put processes and tools in place that help those who are responsible for communicating with patients.
It became our purpose to help our customers begin each day knowing they can get ahead of whatever will come their way.
Our experiences also confirmed what we always knew: Technology is not a panacea, but it is transformative, especially when practices enact processes that allow them to get the most out of their investments. And, perhaps most importantly over the past 2 years, we’ve learned from practices what’s working and what isn’t.
Enter the Great Resignation, exacerbating an already tough environment. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics1 reported that a record number of Americans—4.53 million people—quit their jobs in November 2021. Additionally, the ADA’s Health Policy Institute found in its COVID-19: Economic Impact on Dental Practices core results for the week of December 13, 2021, that more than half of dentists (51.4%) either “definitely” or “may” hire more staff in the next 3 months.2
That last point can be read as a step to alleviate the pressure placed on staff in their practices or, alternatively, as one to replace those who are burned out, need a break, found a new job, or even decided to leave the dental field. Regardless, one thing is clear: There is going to be more competition for skilled dental clinicians and administrators. So even if you haven’t experienced staffing challenges, now is the time to strengthen retention efforts.
Here are several observations for dentists and dental practices to consider when combating the Great Resignation:
- Know that we are past the point of simply “soldiering on.” Dental professionals suffered through the uncertainty of closures only to plunge into a hyperactive period of appointments. Now, after 2 years, many practices continue to see patients at an exhausting pace. This extends across health care in general. A recent survey by Morning Consult found that 18% percent of healthcare professionals have quit since the start of the pandemic.3
- Patient satisfaction, patient engagement, and employee satisfaction are increasingly synonymous. We’ve all seen the signs alerting patrons that establishments are short-staffed and imploring them to be kind to employees on the job. They are posted for a reason. Unhappy patients are often not friendly patients. And unfriendly patients are often not kind to employees. No one wants to work in an environment where patient interactions are fraught with conflict. If you speak with dental professionals who are leaving the profession, they often mention difficult patients. There are 2 takeaways. To avoid the Great Resignation, practices need to make patients happier, and the best way to increase patient satisfaction is to increase patient engagement. This can turn a vicious cycle into a virtuous cycle.
- Customers have higher expectations for a better patient experience. At the beginning of the pandemic, patients were more accepting of inconveniences and digitization glitches. Two years later, the bar is higher. You can’t expect consumers who seamlessly stream movies (with invisible AI algorithms suggesting the perfect content), order food, and conduct banking activities all on their mobile devices to be content with scheduling appointments or filling out forms on a clipboard every time they visit their dentist. Today’s patients want to interact digitally and access the information they need effortlessly on their phones.
- Exhausted employees don’t have patience for administrative burdens. Like the patients they serve, the employees in your practice live digital lives—e-commerce, online banking, you name it. They don’t want to be overextended or spread thin at work because of tasks like scheduling and appointment reminders that can be completed with software. Patient Relationship Management software is a misnomer. The technology is equally applicable to employees. No one wants to be overrun by redundant tasks.
- Turnover leads to more turnover. The same survey by Morning Consult found that 79% said that the national shortage of medical professionals has impacted them and their places of work. It’s a reflection of the reality that rings true in every business. When a trusted colleague leaves, the void left is not easily filled, even with a replacement. The departure of an employee, particularly in a smaller practice, typically means that those who remain will have much more to do. The risk is that the additional work could burn out colleagues.
- Listening is everything. While there is no question that the Great Resignation, to a significant degree, is about compensation, it isn’t just about making more money. The reasons employees are looking for new jobs are varied and diverse. For some, it’s the barrage of repetitive tasks they can’t ever get ahead of. For some, it is the anxiety and stress caused by the pandemic and the specter of infection. For others, it is difficult patients. And then there is the isolation that so many people face today. Business leaders can help by creating practices where these concerns are articulated and listened to. Listening is the first step in exploring how organizations and leaders can help and create solutions.
- Patients are up for grabs. While the Great Resignation is a legitimate concern for many patients, the changes confronting dental practices provide significant opportunities for those that offer patients a better, richer experience. More than ever before, patients are approaching their healthcare as consumers. They aren’t afraid to unbundle it, and they aren’t making their decisions solely on price. This is a great time for practices of all sizes to differentiate themselves by creating an exceptional patient experience that fosters trust and loyalty over the long term.
The Great Resignation is yet one more chapter in a difficult period those in every facet of health care face. We don’t have to be resigned to work in environments where burnout is accepted or common. Now is the perfect time to invest in the tools, the time, and the mindset to keep employees and patients engaged.
1. Economic New Release. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. March 29, 2002. https://www.bls.gov/news.release/jolts.toc.htm
2. ADA. Economic Impact of COVID-19 on Dental Practices. Survey: Wave 32, Week of December 13, 2021. https://www.ada.org/resources/research/health-policy-institute/impact-of-covid-19/private-practice-results
3. Galvin, G. Nearly 1 in 5 health care workers have quit their jobs during the pandemic. Morning Consult. October 4, 2021. https://morningconsult.com/2021/10/04/health-care-workers-series-part-2-workforce/
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mr. Weiner is the president and CEO of Solutionreach. He joined Solutionreach from Summit Partners, a leading global growth equity firm. Through his work with Summit Partners, he served on the Solutionreach board of directors for 3 years. Prior to Summit Partners, he was a consultant with McKinsey & Company.
Mr. Weiner has been recognized by Utah Business as a 2017 CXO of the Year and as a 2018 Forty Under 40 Utah Rising Star. He is a graduate of Stanford University and resides in Salt Lake City with his wife, daughter, and son. Mr. Weiner and his family spend as much time as possible exploring the natural wonders of Utah’s mountains and deserts.
He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disclosure: Mr. Weiner reports no disclosures.