March 2020 will go down in the history of dentistry as that fateful month when everything came to a screeching halt due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Our noble profession was deemed nonessential in the blink of an eye, leaving us to only treat emergency patients under new, strict guidelines that were challenging, at best. We needed to wear N95 masks, but they were not available. We needed to change gowns between patients for certain procedures, and those became extremely hard to find as prices rose.
Our staff members refused to come into work because they had no one to watch their children. Their children also were doing their best -- learning, chatting, and crashing on Zoom while their school buildings remained closed.
Communities stayed in, venturing out just for essentials. Some hoarded toilet paper while others banded together to make masks for front-line workers, neighbors, and friends. With gatherings prohibited, people died without funerals, long-planned weddings were postponed, and graduates didn't get that walk down the aisle to collect their diplomas.
Even as states have begun to lift their stay-at-home orders, many still haven't gone back to their usual activities. This has shaken us to the core and altered lives, possibly forever.
There's no comparison
Even if you practiced during the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s or survived the 2008 recession, this still likely feels different to you. Our "state of the union" is riddled with overwhelming fear, profound uncertainty, chaotic frustration, and confusion.
These feelings are really no surprise.
Communities are divided. Older dentists may retire earlier than planned. Younger startup practices could suffer from fewer patients, declining revenues, and draining cash flows.
The established practice with a full team may need to restructure due to a lower patient volume and more restrictive schedules, per new guidelines. These possible scenarios lead to heightened stress and overwhelming anxiety.
As a community, we talk about the "new normal." It is an unknown future with increased regulations and apprehensive patients. In this time of crisis, the best strategy is to concentrate on what you can do. Focus your attention only on the activities that yield the best return on investment (ROI).
Time for a reset
Resetting your business starts with knowing your values and where your business stands. Whether it is knowing the number of new patients, the percentage of phone calls not answered, or the average value per new patient, understanding the metrics is critical. Analyzing these numbers will help you differentiate target markets and design better marketing campaigns. Also, this is the time to leverage your connections and consider cross-referrals with other professionals. Reach out to the people you have met at networking events, such as Chamber of Commerce meetings, and introduce each other's services to the respective followers.
Revamp your practice
Tough times often require even tougher decisions. The sudden disruption in business will force many of us to restructure.
We may be overstocked, overstaffed, and undertrained. We also realize that we don't communicate well with our team for maximum productivity. A lot of times, team members do not know our expectations, do not understand their goals, and are not clear on how to achieve those goals. Now is the time to invest in training our team for soft skills, such as communication, patient education, and case presentation.
Don't forget to measure team engagement. The 80/20 rule of business applies here: 20% of your team members may be doing 80% of the work. Take the time for a hard look at each member's contribution. Some members deserve a raise while others deserve to be shown the door.
Focus on ROI
The best strategy to maximize ROI is to reactivate your patient base. Your existing patients trust you and like you. Taking the time to do recall and scheduling patients with pending treatment will pack the schedule with production. Also, don't be afraid to offer some discounts, if feasible. Remember, an unprecedented number of people are out of work.
Reconnect with your patients via your email automation systems and social media. Don't just send a routine offer or another video testimonial. Tell stories that paint pictures of treasuring longtime relationships and community support. As a community leader, caring provider, and trusted professional, you will stand out if you keep up communication and stay on patients' minds.
During these few weeks of shutting down, I have treated many emergency patients. The majority were new patients who couldn't get in to see their regular dentists. If you are keeping in touch with your patients on multiple platforms, they won't be seeking out other offices, even with other advertisements or offers.
The tide will change
When you know you have patients who will come back to you and support your business, your stress level will drop dramatically. Then, you can focus on running your office with clear values and commitment.
There is an old saying: The more things change, the more they stay the same. The COVID-19 pandemic will shake things up, but they will go back to normal over time. We may have to use additional personal protective equipment (PPE) and pay more for it. People will be more cautious about their spending and feel more apprehensive more expensive treatments.
The principles of running a business, however, will stay the same. If we are focused and keep our eyes on ROI-producing activities, run lean and mean businesses, and watch our net profits, we will not only survive this pandemic but also thrive during any crisis.
Emily Letran, DDS, is a serial entrepreneur, CEO of multiple dental practices, and private coach to many professionals. As an international speaker, she has been on TEDx and shared stages with countless business leaders. Learn more about her at her website or contact her through email.
The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of DrBicuspid.com, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.