The war against COVID-19 continues around the world and while leading indicators provide evidence of progress, the fight is far from over.
There will be another surge of illness and tragic loss. As a small business owner, I cannot ignore the economic disaster that we will fight next. This new reality came in focus as I prepared to open my practice, PPP-positive and antibody-negative.
As spring turns to summer, we’ll learn where we stand in the dental food chain and allies will be clear. Remember all the talk of Amazon taking over the dental supply business? This crisis has put the major dental distributors front and center. Henry Schein, Benco and Patterson, to name a few, have the relationships with manufacturers, the bandwidth to properly vet new suppliers and the infrastructure to move massive quantities across the country.
The return to comprehensive care is fueled by access to personal protective equipment, and your supply relationship will matter. Initially, supplies must be rationed and they’re typically going to practices based on prior business. Never ordered from a particular distributor? Don’t expect a return phone call in the early days and weeks. This will be frustrating, but it’s business—loyal customers go to the front of the line.
My practice was limited to a few emergency patients a day for six weeks, which provided plenty of time to be in contact with various manufacturers and service providers. I had a variety of experiences, good and bad, but every interaction left me with the same impression: I hope they learned something from this crisis.
This wasn’t the world hitting a pause button; it was a wake-up call to rethink your business operation. Preparing for the reopening of my practice has forced me to identify processes we can change to minimize potential patient crowding and provide a contactless check-in and check-out process. We’re changing the schedule, emailing treatment plans, collecting by phone before appointment, having patients update health history forms from a secure link at home, providing e-statements with a link to pay by credit card and more.
The silver lining in this mess is the freedom to change things we’ve done one way for so long and the happy discovery that the new way might be better.
Nothing will be accomplished in your practice unless your dental team is with you and ready to work. Many organizations and respected educators have shared guidance on the path back to practice. I was disappointed to read a letter from the Arizona Dental Hygienists’ Association that was sent to our governor 10 days after he announced dental offices could reopen by May 1. The line that stood out to me: “Even with proper precautions, we don’t know enough about the virus to go back to providing non-essential care.”
I happen to believe hygienists provide a vital service to patients. Referring to the services they provide as “non-essential” is a big mistake and only serves to validate the half of our population that avoids going to the dentist for preventive care.
To be fair, two paragraphs later was this statement: “Dental hygienists understand that not providing preventive care and treatment for early forms of dental disease for many patients may very well result in increased complexity and cost for treatment down the road.”
Oh, well—too bad for the patients in that group. Dentistry was a dangerous profession long before the COVID-19 pandemic and this event has renewed our focus on a safe working environment that is essential for every member of our team. The world is celebrating heroes both inside and outside of health care: nurses, physicians, EMS workers, first responders, delivery drivers, grocery store employees, restaurant workers, utility companies and more. I like to think that the dental team belongs on that list, too.
What do you think? Please share your comments and your experiences about returning to work in the comments section underneath this article online at Dentaltown.com.