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April 15, 2020

Do not be the Cargill when it is time to Re-Open

This news comes with excitement, caution and nervousness, as it should.  

Respecting this announcement came with an element of surprise as owners of practices are now trying to figure out what “good physical distancing practices and thorough cleanliness protocols” actually means. The dental community anxiously waits for more guidance from respective licensing bodies.  

The reality is, you are getting close to re-opening your doors to serve your patients.

Strategize and Plan:

  1. Develop a protocol and system to ensure your patients feel safe
  2. Looking after treatment and patient concerns
  3. Minimize stress during the transition
  4. Manage production and cashflow.  
    • How many staff do you bring back?  
    • What subsidy programs are you utilizing?  
    • How do you handle patients that come in concerned about financials?  
    • What about Invisalign patients who have aligners in the office that paid down payment but do not want to proceed with treatment?
    • What about fixed patients that started a contract but what different payment terms?
    • What about the patients that have an appliance in the office waiting to be inserted and now they are not sure about proceeding with treatment?  

Not a one size fits all situation, need to use common sense and look at what you feel is fair.

Few suggestions:

1. Communication.  At this time, I cannot stress the importance of clear communication with your patients, families and team.  Let’s start with your team.  Scheduling a call with your team to reassure them that all guidelines, and protocols will be respected and followed for their safety.  This includes guidelines from your college and also from your provincial health minister to ensure everything we have been asked to follow the past six weeks sticks.  This includes social distancing, personal protective equipment (PPE), sterilization protocols, and number of people in an environment.  
Patient Communication. This also needs to be clear and concise.  Be sure you communicate to your patients their safety is top priority and you are respectfully requesting they follow the guidelines you have in place. These guidelines may include;

  • Daily screening and consent protocols for patients, parents and team members.
  • Limit patients only in the practice unless it’s a new patient exam.
  • All parents will be contacted by the clinician that saw their child with a treatment update via phone immediately after their appointment.
  • Next appointment times will be given by the clinical team and parent is welcome to call and re-book to a more convenient time to avoid interaction at the front desk.
  • Someone in the office needs to be directing patient flow to ensure social distancing is respected.  Wiping down everything a patient comes in contact with immediately after they leave.
  • Every second chair should may need to be booked to respect social distancing.
    Changes made in the practice should be communicated to the patients to ensure they are confident returning to your office.  Patients can be divided into the following categories;
    35% - will schedule an appointment without asking any questions, trusting you are in the medical sector and have done your due diligence to ensure their safety.
    35% - will schedule an appointment with hesitation and ask questions regarding the protocols you have in place to ensure safety.
    20% - will be fearful and not leave their house for anything including orthodontic appointments.
    10% - you will not see next 6-12 months which could be fear related, financial concerns, relocation reasons due to job etc….

2. Schedule Template.  You may want to discuss with your team how this is going to look and how appointments need to be scheduled to follow the guidelines in the practice and avoid bottle necks because patients show up early, appointments extend late and all the other things that we have been able to navigate around in the past.  Social distancing and number of patients in the practice at the same time need to be considered.  

Are you extending your days / week and hours each day to accommodate your patients wanting to be seen?  Are you staggering your team to ensure you have staff available for extended hours and for additional days if necessary? Be sure your patients understand this is a temporary change to accommodate the demand and to prioritize their safety.
Do you have a plan in place to prioritize your appointment types and how you are going to contact all your patients to schedule appointments?  Is this going to be based on when they had an appointment scheduled?  

This dance needs to be choreographed perfectly.  You do not want to be the Cargill of dentistry and get the negative exposure if someone (employee or patient)  in your office tests positive.  Every scenario needs to be carefully considered.  How safe your patients feel is what matters because they need to be assured their safety is your priority, as do your employees.  
Based on the information we have; it appears every province will be given green lights at different times and you have to prepare best you can, so you are not waiting another three months to have what you need to open your doors.  
If you want some guidance and support, please do not hesitate to reach out, our doors are open and we are here to help.

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