HPI: Staffing affecting dentistry's full COVID-19 recovery

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Patient volume is ticking up closer to pre-COVID-19 levels; however, staffing is one of the major factors keeping dentistry from making a full recovery, according to new poll results released in November by the ADA Health Policy Institute (HPI).

For the first time since HPI began polling in March 2020, patient volume has reached 91% of prepandemic levels. Patient volume previously hovered around 85% for months.

However, staffing shortages may limit how many patients dental offices can see, according to the results, which included responses from 1,390 dentists. About 1 in 3 dentists need more staff to see the volume of patients they saw before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Compared to before the pandemic, dentists said that hiring staff remains challenging. About 76% of dentists reported that hiring dental hygienists has been extremely challenging, and approximately 61% reported the same about hiring dental assistants. Some dentists also reported that it was extremely challenging to hire dentists and administrative staff but not to the same degree as other positions.

Additionally, numerous factors continue to limit a practice's ability to see more patients. About 44% of clinicians reported that filling vacant staff positions was the biggest hurdle. The second most common response was too few patients making appointments, which was reported by approximately 30% of dentists. COVID-19 safety protocols also limit capacity at practices, dentists reported.

Also, clinicians reported other factors, including not having enough operatories, increasing costs, and patients worried about employment or their ability to pay for care. Only about 16% of dentists reported that they were satisfied with patient volumes at their offices.

Furthermore, most dentists indicated that the cost of surgical masks has at least doubled. Nearly half indicated that the price of gloves has at least tripled since the start of the pandemic, according to HPI.

Managing finances has been a major challenge for dentists. Poll results released by HPI in October revealed that 20% of dentists have raised fees, and 16% have changed dental material suppliers and labs to maintain financial sustainability. Also, dentists had reported reducing dental staff hours, disenrolling from dental benefits plans, and borrowing money from the bank.

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