Higher costs, future COVID-19 shutdowns weigh on dentists

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As the pandemic continues, dentists remain concerned about higher operating expenses, another COVID-19-related shutdown, and employees' inability to come to work, according to a study published online December 12 in the Journal of the American Dental Association.

However, dentists remain optimistic and anticipate monthly collections and net practice income that are the same or greater in 2022, the authors wrote.

"Despite shutdowns and workflow changes, dentists have financially rebounded and anticipate future growth," wrote the group, led by Dr. Laura Anne Jacox, PhD, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina Adams School of Dentistry.

COVID-19 forced dental practices to make changes to workflow, including increasing the use of personal protective equipment and enhancing safety procedures. Although these changes were widely viewed as necessary, they have come at a cost. What these changes mean for the future financial security of dentists is not clearly understood.

To provide insight into dentists' professional and financial perspectives in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers sent a survey to members of the ADA and the American Association of Orthodontists. The survey was collected between February 15 and April 26 and there were 656 respondents.

As COVID-19 looms, clinicians have several concerns: Approximately 57% of clinicians reported the increased cost of providing dental treatment as one of their top three concerns. This included purchasing and using more personal protective equipment and implementing other safety-oriented workflow changes, such as commercial laundry services and air filtration, the authors wrote.

Dentists and orthodontists are also concerned about future lockdowns. Approximately 31% of clinicians reported a new wave of COVID-19 infections resulting in another shutdown as a concern. Following close behind, approximately 28% cited concern over employees' inability to come to work. Other concerns included practitioners' personal finances, contracting COVID-19, and reduced consumer demand.

Despite their concerns, clinicians are positive about the future. Approximately 82% anticipate collecting the same or more monthly collections in 2022, and approximately 78% expect to have the same or more net practice income, the authors noted.

The study had several limitations, including the response rate. The lower number of responses may be due to a lack of prescreening to see if clinicians were interested in participating, they wrote.

In the wake of vaccinations and the lifting of most restrictions in the U.S., dentists are optimistic about the future, Jacox and colleagues concluded.

"Most expect their finances and practice performance to remain the same or grow in the short-term and expect long-term improvements post-pandemic," they wrote.

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