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5 tips to think about when you reopen your practice after lockdown

The Covid-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the dental industry. It’s changing the way practices and labs need to operate now and most likely, for the future.

If your practice is one of those that’s been turned upside down, read these tips for reopening your practice from two Danish doctors, Martin Heiden and Simon Kold. They were two of the first dental practices in Denmark to reopen.

While every country has its own guidelines and rules, the two Danish doctors provide excellent insight for professionals anywhere in the world to benefit from.

Here’s 5 tips to think about when you reopen your practice.

1. Be cautious when bringing back staff

Dr. Simon Kold recommends that practices should be cautious with bringing back their staff. His reasoning is based on the uncertainty that still surrounds the pandemic, and how it will eventually unfold.

While the impact of the shutdown is obvious, Dr. Kold believes that “depending on how the coming patient flow we have in our clinic develops, I would say that two to four months down the road is where we will see exactly how the pandemic has affected us.”

According to Dr. Kold, bringing back staff should be carefully evaluated. His strategy has been to bring back two employees at a time. Emphasizing that not more than two per day should return to the office.

When an employee returns, Dr. Kold meets with them before they start up: “We sit down with each employee and have a 30-minute talk. First, on how we will take care of all the new personal protection equipment. We then let them work for a couple of days before adding two more employees. So gradually, we have employees coming back in.”

By bringing back two employees at a time, this minimizes the financial impact on the practice and mitigates contamination concerns.  

Denmark has made the staggered reintroduction of employees easier by subsidizing the salaries of employees that were “sent home” during the pandemic.

2. Start with the most productive cases when you open

“Schedule first for production… Gain revenue,”
Dr. Kold has found that once your practice re-opens, it is best to schedule production cases first. That way practices can begin earning revenue quickly. In his words: “We are looking to gain revenue first because nobody knows if there might be a second wave or how things will look in two, three, four months from now.”

Dr. Simon Kold

Recommended order for prioritizing your patients when re-opening

1. Emergency and production cases – schedule appointments that earn revenue i.e., larger cases, and of course, ones that are emergency related
2. New patients – keep your client base growing as there is uncertainty on how the future unfolds and/or when regular patients return
3. Maintenance cases – make sure your regular patients are confident and secure that it is safe to return to your practice

3. Consider expanding treatment hours

As your practice re-opens, you may find that you have a backload of cases and patients. Dr. Kold suggests that practices consider expanding their opening hours.

As with all other businesses in your area, your dental practice has been closed during the pandemic. This means patients have a lot of catching up to do besides their dental care.

Dr. Kold suggests that you consider accommodating patients by expanding your opening hours. His reasons are twofold, one, to help patients that are just getting back to daily routines know you are still there, and two, to make sure your practice begins earning revenue.

“For practices that have not opened yet, I would recommend possibly expanding treatment hours. You need to get more patients in. Consider even opening on weekends for a short period. I think it's really about accumulating revenue now in case things get harder down the road.”

Dr. Kold

4. Communicate with your staff

With the pandemic, practices have faced many challenges in holding onto staff. Some have had to let employees go, or reduce size, while others, in Denmark for example, have sent colleagues home with supplemented pay from the government.   

There are many ways to get your staff back in action, but clear communications are paramount. Practices need to create a concrete document that employees can review and understand what is expected of them in terms of protection gear and sterilization.

Additionally, job uncertainty as well as the inherent challenges in working in a corona-restricted environment can affect staff morale. Doctors Heiden and Kold share some innovative ideas that they have done to improve their respective work places.

“My staff came up with an interesting initiative. We created a closed messenger group while we were closed down. We encouraged everyone (employees) to just post happy things about what they were doing at home. ”

Dr. Martin Heiden

Dr. Martin Heiden: “It was quite enjoyable: getting to know your colleagues better and seeing them at home playing with their kids. It's important to keep your employees in good spirits because actually, those who are coming back, they feel appreciated. I think one of the most important things is to keep in close contact with your staff.

Another important addition to our practice and one that helps my staff feel more confident, are splash shields in the operatory. They are quite comfortable to wear, and I can wear them over my loops. I would recommend them.”

Dr. Kold: “We made a video on how to put the gear on and how to take it off again. After seeing the video, employees could go into a changing room and try out the new gear. It’s important to be transparent with your staff.”

In a story posted by the American Dental Association Dr. Jessica Meeske, from the USA, said she created a six page document of reopening protocols for her employees.

Dr. Meeske: “We had an orientation with our staff, which lasted two hours, on the plan to keep patients, parents and the dental team members safe. We invited a local pediatrician and local health department director to be a part of the meetings, review our protocols and answer questions the staff had about COVID-19.”

Again, transparency is key with engaging your staff.

5. Reassuring your patients

As a rule, dental practices are very clean environments, a fact that should be communicated to patients to reassure them. However, the challenge is to first get patients back into your practice. 

Dr. Kold recommends that practices send out reminders. “It is important that your practice is proactive in contacting patients: send out messages and let them know that you're still there; you're waiting to get started again and we haven't forgotten you. I think we all might see a drop off in patients, so you need to be proactive in re-engaging your patient-relationships.”

Dr. Simon Kold

More time with your patients

Because of the pandemic, practices now schedule less appointments with longer appointment times. This is due to safety concerns, sterilization issues in the operatory, and with staff clothing.  

Longer appointments, however, offer practices a new opportunity. The chance to spend more time and reconnect with your patients.     

According to Dr. Andrea Shepperson from New Zealand, “Slow Dentistry ® has come of age.” In a blog post she shared, she says: “The Slow Dentistry movement promotes fundamental standards of care and excellence in delivery. Taking time and care has become the new mantra, ensuring patient safety and trust. Clinicians managing large volumes of patients with multiple, short appointments will be challenged in our new world. Post-Covid PPE demands allow us to expand our time with patients, building value around health.”

Doctors Heiden and Kold make similar conclusions. Dr Hieden says that, “When patients come in, we have less appointments scheduled. I spend more time chatting with them. This creates value.”

With Dr. Kold saying: “I also spend a little bit more time with each patient now on small talk. I think you want to be reassuring. What we are doing now is the opposite of our office’s stated people strategy, which is be as efficient as possible with each patient. Now, we take our time.


Recommended webinar

On-demand webinar: Back in the dental practice after lock-down – our experiences

Watch the webinar that inspired this article. Get the full story from the dentists that were among the first to open up after the pandemic lock-down.

Watch it now

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