The current pandemic has us all thrown off balance. Habits and schedules we’ve been developing for years have been upset, and the process of settling back into new routines will take work.
Since our practice was closed on March 17th, I have only been going into the office for a few hours each week. While I’m there, I do as much as I can. I maintain the business and prepare for reopening, but my time has been limited.
When we received the OK to resume patient care on May 1st, there were several stipulations attached. Among other things, we have to have sufficient PPE supplies on hand, ensure that everyone in the office can stay six feet apart at all times, and minimize contact to prevent transmission of SARS-COV-2 between our patients and employees.
Changes to the normal office flow are required in order to accommodate this new environment.
Here are a few points to consider for reopening your practice:
1. I have found that confirmations are a lot more involved.
A simple text reminder is not sufficient anymore. If we want to pre-screen patients for possible illnesses before their appointment, we have to call and actually speak to each person, verifying that they don’t have any symptoms.
We all know the likelihood of a patient answering your call is 50/50 at best, so this is becoming a challenge.
Patient check-in has also developed into quite an ordeal. When a patient arrives in the office, we have them complete a screening questionnaire to ensure once again that they don’t have any symptoms. Then we take their temperature.
As soon as the patient is cleared for treatment, they are immediately escorted to their sterile treatment room. We can’t have anyone lingering in the reception area.
Finally, I disinfect any countertops or doorknobs that were touched by the patient. My normal friendly greeting that usually takes seconds has turned into several minutes. All the other tasks I am responsible for are suffering.
2. The scheduling template that we have been perfecting for years isn’t going to work anymore.
We don’t want patients arriving at the office at the same time, so my dental hygienists now have a staggered appointment schedule. Many offices already do this, but if not, you’ll want to think about making that change.
Not only that, but we also have to add lag time at the end of each appointment. We’re doing this for two reasons: to make sure the patient exiting doesn’t run into the patient entering for the next appointment and to provide assistants and hygienists extra time for disinfection.
3. I’m finding that many patients aren’t ready to come in. Not yet, at least.
Thankfully, this isn’t such a bad thing. We aren’t ready for a flood of patients right off the bat.
On the other hand, we need patients to produce revenue and to start rebuilding the bank account balance, so it’s a double-edged sword.
Managing patient feelings in a respectful manner are vital to maintaining a trusting relationship. If we attempt to force patients to keep appointments during this time or punish them for canceling, they are going to lose their trust in us.
As America starts the reopening process, patients are slowly going to feel more comfortable about coming in for non-urgent and elective treatment. Eventually, we are going to recover from this pandemic, and the floodgates will open, but initially, we have to manage with what we have.
Here are my tips for smoothly reopening your practice:
- If your dental office has been mostly empty, have the team return a week before you start seeing patients. They can help to make phone calls, reschedule patients, and prepare the office for your new systems.
- Adjust your schedule as necessary to prevent patients from entering and exiting at the same time.
- Build time into your schedule so hygienists and assistants can greet their patients at the door and complete their screening, so your front office team doesn’t get bogged down. This will also help minimize contact.
- Respond with understanding to your patients who are still afraid to come in for an appointment.
- Change your text message/email confirmations to inform patients about what they should expect upon their arrival.
- Smile! We are all in this together. There will be some hiccups along the way, but we will come out stronger on the other side.
Meet the Author
Betsy is the office administrator for Ryan Mueller, DMD of Portland, Oregon. She is a 22-year veteran of the dental industry, starting out as an assistant before making the transition to administration.
She earned her fellowship through AADOM in 2014, was named Practice Administrator of the Year in 2018, and currently presides over the Portland Metro AADOM Chapter… This text opens a new tab to the Portland AADOM website…. Her passion lies in customer service, efficiency, and constant personal growth.