COVID-19 Recovery: Turning Lessons Learned Into Strengths
Navigating COVID-19 mandates, requirements, and recovery has opened many dental practice leaders' eyes to the cracks in their practice systems. In normal circumstances, these cracks may have been noticed but casually placed on the back burner. But in a season of heightened change such as what practices are presently experiencing, these cracks can be more impactful and hinder productivity.
The lessons each practice has learned through COVID-19 can help it build a stronger and more sustainable foundation, making the practice better prepared for continued growth no matter what the future holds. The following three broad strategies can help a dental practice stay committed to improvement and experience growth even through these trying times.
1. Continue to evolve and improve your patient communications. The evolution of patient communication and navigation through appointments has been readily apparent throughout this past year. Many of the protocols that successful practices have implemented to ensure a more "touchless" patient experience will undoubtedly take root and continue to benefit their business moving forward. Practices have used this crisis as an opportunity to finally go paperless, streamlining a more efficient process within the business aspect of the practice. Services that personalize the patient experience, such as two-way texting, text-to-pay, digital forms, and virtual communications, have been brought to the forefront.
In a 2020 research report, nine out of 10 patients in the healthcare realm felt they received good or even better care from their providers than before COVID-19. Reasons for this involved more personalized, faster, and more convenient responses via newfound communication avenues.1 This newer approach to patient communication has now established a perception and expectation among patients that dental providers are capable of assisting them whenever needed.
Great customer service makes it easy for patients to get what they want or need. Incorporating these state-of-the-art technological evolutions into a dental practice can help build trust, value, and satisfaction with patients, which, in turn, may help increase case acceptance, patient loyalty, and those ever-valuable internal referrals.
2. With cost continuing to be your patients' biggest barrier to care, focus on the financial aspect of dentistry. In a 2019 study,the American Dental Association's Health Policy Institute found that the primary reason patients avoid or delay care is cost.2 A dental practice should provide its patients with as many pathways to care as possible, whether through offering various payment options, becoming more adept at patient financing, or exploring ways to accomplish recommended, comprehensive treatment plans. This may require continuous learning and improvement in the financial aspect of dentistry. COVID-19 has magnified this obstacle to care, and practices must continue to engage with patients to educate, motivate, and activate them into treatment.
A treatment coordinator capable of helping patients find a way forward for care should be utilized and have the following characteristics: understand the clinical aspect of the care in order to answer questions clearly for the patient; have a strong and proven understanding of the practice's financial options; be organized and able to plan ahead for treatment presentations; be comfortable talking about money and confident when quoting the total fee in its entirety; have excellent communication skills; and know the various systems that connect with case presentation in order to take the conversation to the finish line, including signing a financial agreement and scheduling the appointment. The practice should make it a priority to have a coordinator in place with these skills, providing appropriate training if necessary.
3. Keep connecting as a team-meetings matter. This season of COVID-19 has shown the importance of each and every member of the team clearly understanding their role in the patient experience and effectively executing their work and communicating with both patients and each other. Daily huddles, monthly or weekly team meetings, and ongoing training opportunities help create a practice culture of growth and build a strong team. Such meetings are for communicating practice goals, reporting on the current state of the practice, identifying and clarifying roles and responsibilities, working through processes and systems, ensuring all team members are on the same page, and refining/modifying the practice's approach as new information or changes come to light. Creating an atmosphere of ongoing learning and development helps engage the team in the work processes and makes them more likely to not only grow and develop their own strengths, but stay committed to the practice. Nurturing the talent of the team and creating room for training sets team members-and the practice itself-up for success.
About the Author
Co-Owner, The Jameson Group (jmsn.com), a dental management, marketing, and hygiene coaching firm
1. How COVID-10 will permanently alter patient behavior. Accenture Patient Survey. May 2020. https://www.accenture.com/_acnmedia/PDF-128/Accenture-Patient-COVID19-Treatment-Survey.pdf. Accessed January 6, 2021.
2. Gupta N, Vujicic M. Main barriers to getting needed dental care all relate to affordability. American Dental Association Health Policy Institute. November 2019. https://www.ada.org/~/media/ADA/Science%20and%20Research/HPI/Files/HPIBrief_0419_1.pdf?la=en. Accessed January 6, 2021.