Dentists across the country furloughed employees, scrounged for proper PPE, and managed new infection control questions from patients. Many practices experienced close to a 20% reduction in production in the last 12 months. According to Dentistry IQ, a report by the ADA Health Policy Institute projected a “likely return to 80% of pre-pandemic levels by the second fiscal quarter of 2021.” For the 13,000 dentists who opted to participate, the survey results indicate that 53.1% of solo dentist practices are open but experiencing lower patient volume than usual.
Trusted advisors like dental CPAs and practice management consultants can be great resources to help navigate the pandemic landscape—and even grow. What opportunities are there for general dental practice growth as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact our industry? For a dental business, reviewing familiar business systems such as the new patient experience and the recare patient experience can bring growth into focus.
Reimagining the Patient Experience
Revisiting new patient strategies should include the pandemic new patient experience in your practice. Consider including your infection control practices on your website to help both new and existing patients feel comfortable scheduling appointments. Providing scripting around infection control practices for your team provides a consistent message for patients, helps to reassure your patients, and secures more appointments. The front office team is probably fielding questions from patients about the COVID-19 vaccination status of the staff. While it is not advised to reveal any specific personal health history of the team with patients, businesses may share general vaccination percentages for the entire staff.
The general public is more aware than ever of infection control practices and associated terminology. It is increasingly common for patients to research and even suggest what they think their dentist’s office should provide to ensure their safety in the office. Defining pandemic protocols for the team ensures these protocols are consistent and effective. Consistency is key, as well—one team member seen wearing a face shield while another doesn’t may cause patients to question the practice’s safety. Patients are more willing to speak up now than in the past when they perceive a gap in protocols, and confident patients with positive experiences can influence the rest of their family, friends, and neighbors to reengage in their dental health.
During dental appointments, patients who have been isolated due to the pandemic may require extra time to connect and be reassured before making decisions about moving forward with treatment. Allowing time in the schedule for these consultations may mean a little lighter restorative schedule to secure productive treatment in the future. Listening skills, including open-ended questions about patient priorities, can mean more restorative treatment scheduled, more satisfying treatment outcomes, and greater potential referral sources for new patients.
Managing Costs + Fees
Redefining who is considered a new patient can be a strategy to provide comprehensive care for a fair yet productive fee. Established patients who avoided dental care before the start of the pandemic may need a comprehensive exam to reestablish their dental health. Consider using CDT code 0150 for these patients who have not had a periodic exam for over three years. This fee can be established lower than the usual and customary comprehensive exam fee and still be more productive than the periodic exam fee. Any contracted fees need to be honored.
Incorporate PPE costs into your current fees unless the insurance benefits provider allows for a separate fee. While there is currently no CDT code specifically for PPE costs, the ADA is advocating for this with insurance benefit providers. It is suggested to use CDT code 1999 in the interim and anticipate reimbursement (if allowed), between $2 and $25 per visit or patient.
Diversifying Offerings + Engaging Staff
Dental practices can use downtime in the schedule to research additional clinical training to enhance practice offerings and help draw new patients who may be searching for these services. Practices offering services such as Invisalign, Sleep Dentistry, and Botox for TMJ symptom relief are among the more popular additions. Once clinically certified, these services should be searchable by keywords on your website.
Lastly, in the current climate of dental staffing shortages, ensure team stability through effective meetings. Establish your current pandemic standard of care, which should be outlined during team meetings to ensure all team members comply. Provide an environment for team members to participate in establishing new protocols, uniting the team, and contributing to team member retention. Familiar team members add to the confidence of your returning patients and can help provide referral opportunities within your current patient base.
Aldrich is Here to Help
The COVID-19 pandemic impact on the dental industry is likely to continue for a time, with steady improvement. Patients who have deferred dental needs must be encouraged to address these needs. Team member retention contributes to the overall business health of the practice.
Practices that proactively strategize growth will lead the industry in recovery from the effects of the pandemic. If you have questions about growing your dental practice in this uncertain environment, reach out to your Aldrich Advisor.
Meet the Author
Dental Practice Consultant
Karen Burnett, RDH, MA
Aldrich CPAs + Advisors LLP
For Karen Burnett, enthusiasm for dentistry includes over 30 years of experience ranging from dental assisting and dental hygiene to more than 18 years of experience in dental practice coaching. She takes pride in providing results-oriented business solutions, using a tailored approach for the growth of individuals and teams. She is skilled in internal and... Read more Karen Burnett, RDH, MA
- Dental business management
- Hygiene program profitability and analysis
- Treatment presentation and incomplete treatment follow-up
- New patient recruitment and retention
- Practice administration