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Latest polling shows patient slowdown: How to make use of this time and keep dental staff productive

November 11, 2020 6611

The dental profession experienced a strong rebound earlier this year after resuming preventive care during the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the impressive recovery, practices have seen a consistent decrease in patient volume over the last two months. 

By the week of Aug. 24, nearly 50% of dentists reported a lower patient volume than usual, according to a recent poll from the ADA’s Health Policy Institute. For the week of Nov. 2, nearly 61% of dentists reported fewer appointments.  

What’s the cause? 

Dental practices saw an influx of patients in June and July as dental teams set out to reschedule appointments that were postponed during the statewide mandate for dentists to only provide emergency care. 

Due to the common practice of scheduling patient recalls every six months, some practices may be experiencing scheduling plateaus. Practice volumes are expected to increase in December and January when patients return for their biannual checkups. 

Dentists and their teams can take steps to keep daily operations running efficiently ― and stay connected to patients ― during this time.

Plan your 2021 Schedule

  1. Identify how COVID-19 will impact the practice schedule for the next 12 months. We know that the pandemic impacted practice production in the spring, which then led to record months in the summer. Plan how this fluctuation will impact the schedule for the next year.
  2. Plan activities for slower months to boost productivity and improve team morale, such as:
  • Take C.E. courses or attend leadership training courses.
  • Take some time off or a vacation. Encourage team members to take a week off and recharge.
  • Do a “deep clean” of the office or make improvements to the practice.
  • Hold a staff retreat and focus on improving the team dynamics.
  • Volunteer and give back to the community.
  1. Identify your staffing needs and talk to your team. Do you have any employees who may be taking a leave of absence during the slower times? Do you have any employees who would prefer a part-time schedule that you can offer that during the slower times? Be flexible with your staff just as you want them to be flexible with you and the needs of the practice.
  2. Identify patients who are not tied to the “six-month” hygiene recall. While most insurance plans have this stipulation, some plans offer more flexible recall terms. Encourage these patients to be seen on a four- to five-month interval or identify patients who require more frequent hygiene appointments to manage periodontal disease.

Complete a practice health check 

Do you have adequate PPE for a minimum of 14 days? Are your wage statements accurate and compliant with California law? These are just two of several questions you should be asking yourself that could help determine the strength of your practice. 

Use this time to evaluate the different processes and procedures that keep your practice running day to day and work on making any necessary adjustments before the new year. 

CDA’s Practice Health Check can help you evaluate how prepared your practice is in four key areas: regulatory compliance, dental benefits, employment and practice management. You’ll also find resources to help you implement change in your practice and manage potential risks. 

Conduct a staff training

To ensure team members are not becoming too lax with COVID-19 protocols, conduct a staff training to further develop their safety skills and refresh their knowledge on how to properly interact and care for patients during the pandemic. 

Staff training also can open the floor for necessary conversations between you and your employees, offering a safe space for everyone to voice their concerns, ask questions and discuss their needs and expectations. 

Establish and maintain a strong online presence 

If your practice doesn’t already have an online presence, now is the time to establish one. Creating and maintaining a consistent online presence can help you stay connected to patients between their yearly checkups and during times when business is slower than usual. 

Social media helps you maintain a strong connection with patients by allowing you to respond to comments and questions more quickly and frequently. You can boost engagement by posting pictures and videos highlighting team members practicing the latest safety protocols at work. You might also share oral health care tips and patient testimonials, but be sure to obtain the patients’ consent before posting patient testimonials or pictures.

Use the practice’s website to help patients find the latest information, such as updated office hours, ways to contact the office and guidance on how your team is handling the pandemic. Customize the patient email template and patient letter available in CDA’s library of back-to-practice resources.

Optimize your online presence and boost your ranking on online search engines such as Google and Bing by consistently updating your website. Doing so will not only make it easier for existing patients to find you online but will also attract new patients who are looking for a dentist. 

As a CDA Endorsed Program, WEO Media provides CDA members free marketing assessments plus a 10% discount on all setup fees, excluding direct mail. Learn more about WEO’s services. 

For more ways to keep yourself and your staff productive during this time, see CDA’s Practice Support resources.

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