I’m writing this column a month after the economy came to a grinding halt and my dental practice entered a strange hibernation where we’d see only emergency patients. This moment will serve as the dividing line in the history of my practice, which will be split between life “before coronavirus” (BC) and “after coronavirus” (AC).
I’ve focused on looking ahead to life AC because there’s so much to do before we can go back to work. Even when we do, it won’t be business as usual at first.
A lot of questions ahead
I’ve applied for the various loan programs but haven’t yet received a response. The long-term financial impact on our practices will not show predictable trends for the next six months. We must first sort out the patients who’ve lost their jobs, the patients who are still afraid of getting sick because they have pre-existing conditions, and the time it will take people who are working to replenish their savings accounts.
In the coming months, we’ll hear plenty of discussion about testing for COVID-19. The point-of-care rapid antibody tests sound promising as a potential screening tool in our practices but can register a positive result for other members of the coronavirus family, and we’re currently not permitted to administer these tests.
Coming back to work will require several precautions and operational changes for the sake of your patients and team. Some of the changes we have planned in my practice: limited seating in reception; patients allowed to wait in car; magazines removed; face shields for team; health reminders in appointment emails; no-touch thermometers to check patient temperatures upon arrival; disinfection of nonclinical surfaces throughout the day. Many dentists on Dentaltown have discussed various approaches to upgrading the air quality in their practices; I’ve decided to install a UV light system in each of the air handlers in my practice.
Rest assured, you’ll see demand for dental services right away, thanks to patients who had only minor problems but elected to stay home rather than bother you with an emergency call. The initial procedure mix may change based on local conditions, but you can sleep well at night knowing that the long-term need for your skills has not disappeared. Depending on your current age, you have already seen some major economic downturns. The severity of this public health crisis has reminded at least a few of my patients that putting off treatment recommendations will come back to bite you at a most inconvenient time.
Community-based support and learning
One final lesson learned so far is the power of remote connection. Dentaltown lives by the motto “Where no dentist will ever have to practice solo again,” and the COVID-19 crisis made everyone feel alone as professionals. The explosion of activity on our message boards was palpable, and it’s been refreshing to see dentists helping each other with an entirely new topic.
I held a virtual team meeting, attended the Western Regional Dental Convention online and many other educational webinars. Distance learning is a wonderful tool, but just like a virtual happy hour on Zoom, it won’t replace the real thing. I’m looking forward to the next major live dental meeting—possibly CDA North in San Francisco or the American Dental Association meeting in Orlando, Florida. We can expect to see some new products that companies had been forced to hold back because of our current situation. Once again, the conversations will return to the things we love: teeth and gums.
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