This post was originally published by Brandon Jones on Dental Intel.
Whether we like it or not, we’re currently in the midst of a major pandemic, one that is causing rapid changes that impact businesses, families, and individuals everywhere. It’s unclear what will unfold in the coming weeks or months, but one thing is certain: businesses everywhere are having to change the way they normally operate in order to survive.
Globally, millions of consumers are being asked to adhere to social distancing and self-quarantine guidelines due to the recent COVID-19 outbreak. As a result, businesses are shortening their hours, canceling appointments or meetings, and sending their employees home.
As unorthodox as this may seem for the dental industry, this is the reality for most dental practices. After the recent announcement from the ADA, more and more practices are now having to learn how to thrive in these uncertain conditions.
At Dental Intelligence, our number one purpose during this crisis is to enable safety and growth within your practice. That means helping you utilize intelligent technology so you can continue to do more and better dentistry while keeping your staff and patients healthy and safe.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at seven steps you can take to best manage your practice during this pandemic.
Update your business information.
One of the most frightening things about the current situation is that we just don’t know what to expect. While there’s probably not much you can do to shed light on the virus and its effects specifically, you can help ease peoples’ minds by keeping your patients up to date so that they at least know what to expect from your practice.
It’s especially important to clarify how you will be running your practice for the next several weeks in light of the recent recommendations made by the ADA. If you plan to postpone all elective procedures, make sure your patients know how to get seen for an emergency. If you utilize an online scheduling system like LocalMed, make sure it’s visible on your website or social media pages so patients can easily schedule if they can’t get through to your office over the phone. Additionally, make sure your patients know that you’re working on a plan to take care of any care that has to be postponed and communicate that plan when it’s ready.
Social media is one of the best ways to make sure all of this information is readily available to your patients. Make sure you have a dedicated team member (or several) in charge of responding to comments and messages you will receive through social media. The number one priority here is to communicate in a way that encourages people to see you as a source of stability in uncertain times.
With the interruption to normal chair-side care, this is a great opportunity to spend extra time following up with insurance companies about outstanding claims. These claims can be found on the Collections Board inside of Dental Intelligence. Not only will this help keep you busy, but it will also help by keeping income flowing into the practice.
On the other hand, this is an important time to be especially understanding of patients with stressed finances. Whether you’re trying to continue business as usual or you’re choosing to only see patients for emergency procedures, you should focus your efforts as much as possible on patients with remaining insurance to help cover their bill. When necessary, consider deferring patient payments so that people can continue to get the care they need without having to choose between their health and their finances.
Another good use of your time during this slowdown is to focus your efforts on filling your future schedule. People won’t continue social distancing and quarantining themselves indefinitely. When things return to normal—and they will, we promise—you could potentially be the busiest and most profitable you have ever been.
But that doesn’t mean you should start marketing like crazy. People are desperate for stability right now, and that means you have a huge opportunity to fill your schedule with current patients who already trust you but for whatever reason don’t have an appointment on the books. Patient Finder is the perfect tool for the job, empowering you to easily sort through your patient base and find opportunities based on whatever criteria matters most to your practice. If you put the time in now, you have the chance to turn this slowdown into a really positive experience for your practice.
Similarly, it’s important to carefully manage the cancellations you’re getting right now. Quickly get a plan into place for how you want to handle those cancellations so that your staff knows what to do. Consider creating a template or script, like this one, for communicating with your patients. That way, when a patient calls, emails or texts to reschedule, you can reschedule them right then so that both you and your patients can move forward with as little disruption as possible. Similarly, when patients no-show, be ready to reach out and get them back on the schedule as soon as you reasonably can.
Manage your waiting room.
Just as important as managing your schedule looking forward is managing the patients who are still coming into your office. We obviously want to keep everyone as healthy as possible. To that end, there are a few steps you can take to keep from spreading any illness at your practice.
Encourage hand washing. This goes for everyone, including patients and front office staff. Make sure to have a bathroom or washing station clearly marked and easily accessible.
Encourage patients to wait in their car until their appointment time. The less time people spend in close contact with each other, the fewer chances they have to spread anything they might have to someone else.
Make space in your waiting room. If at all feasible, space the chairs in your waiting room to provide a buffer between waiting patients. Six feet is the recommended distance if you have the space but we understand that not all practices have that luxury. Whatever your situation, do the best you can. The more space you can provide between waiting patients, the better.
Communicate with your team.
This situation isn’t just scary for your patients, it’s a tense experience for your team members too. You can do a lot to alleviate that just by keeping an open channel of communication with your team. If possible, get the whole team in one room and walk through what the next few weeks will look like. Set clear expectations—both for how you expect your team to handle patients and what the team members themselves can expect during the slowdown.
After the team meeting, set up some way to keep in regular contact with your team. This could be through a simple text thread or you could use a dedicated platform such as Microsoft Teams or Slack to make sure everyone stays up to date and informed. Regardless of how you choose to do it, clear and consistent communication with your team is one of the most important things you can do to weather this storm.
Find ways to pay your staff.
This one is pretty simple: continuing to pay your staff as much as you are able is the right thing to do. There is certainly plenty of work still to do—calling insurance, reactivating patients, software training, social media outreach, equipment maintenance, etc—and helping your team remain financially stable is a vital part of making sure this slowdown has as little of an impact as possible going forward.
Because that’s the goal, right? To get through this intact and in position to thrive on the other side. The pandemic is going to affect the way you do business. But with the right approach, you can take advantage of the opportunity and make your practice better than it was before.
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