Today, if you asked your hygienists and team members this question and if you are scheduling them the same as you did pre-COVID-19, I suspect their answer would be "no." I would expect their responses to be not only emphatic but also filled with tones of fear, despair, and exhaustion.
Many people are now battling "pandemic fatigue." It's a phrase I hear daily in the news. Sources like nonprofit Mental Health America have reported a dramatic increase in the number of people seeking information on depression and anxiety. As dentists and leaders of our practices, we need to be sensitive to our own mental health needs, as well as those of our team members and patients. People are tired and frightened, and they desperately need encouragement.
Dr. Robert Maguire.
We, as dental teams, have an opportunity to help our patients by displaying confidence and courage. In the midst of this overwhelming and omnipresent anxiety, we can show our empathy and concern by spending more time than usual (pre-COVID-19) with our patients. We also need to check in with our teams daily. Our main goal must be to make our practices places of hope, places that run smoothly, and places that are as stress-free as possible. This attention is especially important for our hygienists. They must have enough time to do their job and do it well.
Since the onset of COVID-19, many practices are dealing with a restricted patient pool. Many patients have chosen to postpone dental treatment for fear of contracting the virus. Many face challenges including the loss of a job, reduced income, kids being schooled from home, or the inability to take additional time off from work. For the sake of the dental health of our patients, we need to address these challenges and do all we can to help our patients seek care rather than delay it.
Remember these words from Maya Angelou: "People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." Now, more than ever, our patients need to feel that we care about them deeply. Nothing says "I care for you" more than spending time with your patients, really listening to them, and involving them in their treatment decisions.
With all this information, why have many practices not scheduled additional time for their hygienists? Because their primary focus has been on money. They fear that scheduling more time will lead to a further loss of production and income. I contend that allotting more time to treat your patients will result in an increase rather than a decrease of income for your practice.
If you haven't modified your hygiene schedule and systems, I guarantee that your patients' needs as well as other safety protocols are being overlooked. I guarantee that you are losing income due to treatment not being diagnosed. Also, I predict that you and your team are hurried, stressed, and often running behind schedule.
There are many reasons why you need to schedule more time now during the pandemic. First, many patients are overdue for their appointments, thus requiring more time to review their medical histories, to ask them about any concerns, to thoroughly examine them, to treat them, and to point out areas that need attention. Second, from a systems management perspective, more time is needed now to turn over a room, adequately clean it, disinfect it, and don and doff your personal protective equipment (PPE).
Instead of focusing solely on money, I suggest that dentists and their teams concentrate mainly on excellence. Ask yourself the following questions: What's best for my team? What's best for my patients? What's best for the practice? How can we be best care for one another? This mindset puts caring for the needs of your people above your concerns over profits. It's a commitment to excellence and a commitment to always doing your best. With this in place, you then figure out the best approach to manage the extra time needed to make it happen. I recommend that the first place to start is with your hygiene schedule.
Begin by making a checklist of everything that needs to be accomplished before, during, and after a hygiene visit (I love checklists). Time stamp each of the activities on the list and be realistic about what's needed for each step. Often, we tend to underestimate the amount of time needed to complete a procedure. Involve your entire team with this activity as you brainstorm how you can best meet the needs of each patient. Are there some things that can be done by the dental assistants or the administrative team prior to seating the patient? Review the patient's chart prior to his or her arrival. Figure out what steps can be delegated. Remember, the time you spend preparing for the patient visit beforehand will save you time during the actual visit. Do you have an extra chair available? Ask yourself how you can utilize the chair to enhance efficiency in the hygiene schedule. Lastly, analyze your fees and, if necessary, increase them to compensate for the extra time you need to provide quality care to your patients. If you are participating in a number of preferred provider organization (PPO) plans, maybe now is the time to discontinue them in order to be your best.
Staying on time, spending more time with your patients, listening to them, addressing their concerns, thoroughly examining them, and educating them on their present dental needs are things you must do to instill confidence. When you do, three things will happen in your office. First, your team's morale will go up as they see that you care more about them than the "bottom line." Second, your patients will feel safe, more confident, and more comfortable moving forward with their dental care. Third, you, the dentist, will be more productive as the hygiene patients with their identified needs are then placed into your schedule for treatment.
The pandemic continues to be a huge challenge for dentistry and for everyone on the planet. You and your hygienists are the major producers in your practice. Remember that a large part of your schedule comes from the dental needs discovered during a hygiene visit. Ensure that your systems provide the time necessary for your hygienists to do their best work. Allot sufficient time so they can educate, examine, and expedite their patients' treatment needs. The entire dental team must focus on excellence. Create an environment where everyone, including you, can work efficiently and do your best. When you do, your practice will be more productive, the profits will follow, and you'll have more fun, even in the midst of the pandemic.
Dr. Robert Maguire is a dental speaker, coach, practice consultant, and DiSC (dominance, influence, steadiness, and conscientiousness) trainer who is passionate about leadership and communication. If you'd like more information about him and how he can help you and your team communicate better, visit his website or email him at email@example.com.
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