Maybe you sustained your practice during the shutdown, or perhaps you struggled to keep it together and still haven't reached prepandemic numbers. No matter where you fall, you are facing different challenges and, with that, have different opportunities for adaptation and change.
While we would love to say goodbye to COVID-19 and all of the coronavirus variants, the reality is that COVID-19 is here to stay -- at least during the time it takes to make or break a dental practice. But the good news is that dentistry is here to stay, too. In fact, according to recent surveys, dentistry is growing in areas where it had been stagnant.
Below are three opportunities to grow your dental practice in 2022.
1. Remote workers
Dr. James V. Anderson.
Considering the turbulent ride of the past two or so years, it's a good time to reflect upon where we see growth opportunities. One of the most prevalent issues in the past year has been staffing.
Staffing has remained a constant issue due to fear of the virus and vaccine mandates, as well as school closures, which have forced many with young children to drop hours or quit entirely. Older workers with underlying health matters also quit to reduce their risk for exposure.
In a poll conducted by the ADA Health Policy Institute, 10.9% of responding dentists had reduced team hours and 6.8% of responding dentists had downsized dental teams. If you lost employees or are not finding qualified employees for critical administrative areas, consider outsourcing to remote specialists for a percentage of collections.
Remote workers don't worry about catching COVID-19 from your office because they don't come to your office. Working from home or an alternative base location allows remote employees to access your practice software from a secure connection and file your claims, post insurance payments to accounts, and follow-up on unpaid claims and patient accounts without the drama of coming into the office.
A clinical staff shortage causes issues in terms of seeing consistent volumes of patients. The strategic scheduling you used to employ with overlapping patients may no longer work. Additionally, many adults have avoided seeing a dentist during the pandemic because they're worried about personal safety and exposure to COVID-19 and the cost of care.
If you haven't yet, now is a good time to consider teledentistry as an alternative solution. You can bill dental plans if you follow their protocol for teledentistry visits. Regardless, a televisit is vital to the patient's dental health.
3. Patient education
Fear of pain has always been a factor for patients, but dental technology has improved in this area and patient education is a must to demonstrate new techniques. These common fears must be addressed for patients to build trust and return to the dental practice in 2022.
There are many ways to ensure patient trust, including creating videos, blogs, and other educational content to inform patients about the latest care and advancements in your practice. You can routinely send email blasts about your latest technologies that include new patient comfort and security features.
Studies show that up to 89% of consumers read online reviews before scheduling an appointment or purchasing something. They also spend time reading blogs or information about offered procedures such as crowns and implants. Monitoring your reviews and updating your website content is vital to creating a trustworthy and efficient online profile. Some of the most popular review sites are Google, Facebook, and Yelp.
Additional ideas for practice growth
There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to affect staffing and patients, but that doesn't mean your practice cannot grow in 2022. The numbers show that very few transmissions have occurred in a dental office, and while the potential for infection remains, we have an opportunity to educate staff and patients about our adherence to infection control protocols.
Here are some additional tips for improving patient encounters this year:
- Make asking for a review part of your check-out protocol. However, be sure your patient had a great experience before asking for a review. Getting the team involved to ask this of patients can increase your positive reviews and improve patient care.
- Patients with insurance, whether you are in or out of network, must pay attention to their benefits so they know you are billing correctly and value what the insurance pays. It may not be much reimbursement, but to many patients, it's the reason they are in your office. Monitor your insurance accounts receivable weekly and follow up on unpaid claims.
- Create an online portal that allows patients to schedule appointments online, ask questions, and fill out intake paperwork at their leisure. They can also update insurance information. Patients want to spend less time in the dental office.
- Expand office hours to allow patients to come in at the times that work best for them, including early mornings, evenings, and weekends.
- Offer access to teledentistry to prescreen before an office appointment or to do consultations and answer one-on-one questions before and after treatment.
- Allow patients to pay online or from their mobile devices.
- Make your website shine with a new look and establish a social media page.
- Make dentistry less disagreeable with new technology for taking impressions and producing crowns and other prosthetics, including using CAD/CAM technology and 3D printers. Patients love fewer appointments to complete their dental care.
As we go into the new year, we must keep improving and finding new ways to serve our patients better. We have the opportunity to build confidence in our dental team and pull together to overcome any obstacle that comes our way this year.
Dr. James V. Anderson is a practicing dentist in Syracuse, UT, and is the CEO and founder of eAssist Dental Solutions. He can be reached via email.
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