Is the pandemic patient drop here? Maybe

By Melissa Busch, DrBicuspid.com assistant editor

November 6, 2020 -- Now that 99% of dental offices in the U.S are open following pandemic shutdowns, fewer practices are reporting "business as usual," according to the most recent data from the ADA's Health Policy Institute (HPI).

Patient volume had been holding steady at approximately 80% of pre-COVID-19 levels, but results released on October 30 show volume fell to 78%. This is in line with the number of practices reporting "business as usual," which has been sliding each week from about 48% during the week of September 7 to about 39% during the week of October 19. The data include responses from about 3,000 dentists.

"The latest data suggest that we are firmly in a 'new normal' or maybe even that economic activity in dental offices might be starting to slow," said Chelsea Fosse, a senior health policy analyst at HPI.

The unknown

Unlike many other sectors that face steeper climbs to recovery from COVID-19, dentistry seemed to make a pretty strong return once practices were given the green light to reopen. Experts warned about a fall slump and now numbers are showing that it may be here. With high unemployment rates, losses in employer-sponsored dental coverage, spikes in SARS-CoV-2 infections in states across the U.S., and no clear national strategy outlined to get COVID-19 under control, only time will tell how things shake out ultimately for dentistry.

Link between volume and COVID-19

There is a very weak relationship between COVID-19 cases and patient volume at the state level. States with greater increases in the number of COVID-19 cases had slightly greater declines in patient volume during the past month, according to the data.

"Patient volume is, at most, very slightly correlated with both COVID-19 cases and test positivity rates," Fosse said.

Location matters

Geography is also playing a role in recovery. Dentists practicing in the 20 largest cities reported lower patient volume numbers. On average, patient volume in cities is at 75% of pre-COVID-19 levels. However, patient volume is slightly above the national average in rural and smaller urban areas. Nonurban areas are experiencing patient volume at 83% of pre-COVID-19 levels and smaller urban areas are at 80%, according to the results.

"Many factors could be driving this," Fosse said.


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