One of those people who stayed part time was Kim James*, an office manager. I spoke to James about her journey, and these are some of her thoughts. As a side note, James was a dental hygienist in the military before becoming a dental office manager in a solo practice.
James Anderson, DMD.
"Cleaning the office air of microbes is the new dental care challenge," she said. "Not only do we have to maintain the HVAC system, but we also have air purifiers and vapor vacuum systems at the chair to remove aerosols. We must upgrade our [personal protective equipment (PPE)] and make sure that we adhere to stricter than ever infection control policies.
"Our practice is the cleanest practice I have had the privilege to work in, yet we still face considerable challenges to opening under the new [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)] guidelines. Our front door is locked, and our reception room is no longer a gathering place. It is a pass-through area to the clinical treatment room. Our patients arrive staggered and wait in their cars to be escorted into the office one at a time. Patients' temperatures are taken in their vehicles. Health information forms that are not or cannot be filled out online are filled out with a disinfected pen in the patient's car. New patient questions have to do with whether the patient feels sick or shows signs of the virus. All patients must wear masks.
"We received information from our dental supply representative about approved guidelines to open the practice, and they have also made sure we have the proper PPE according to [Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)] guidelines," James explained. "The PPE includes masks, face shields, eyewear, gloves, disposable gowns, and foot coverings and, of course, antimicrobials and instrument/equipment sterilization systems. We launder our scrubs onsite. We are also careful to follow the ADA recommendations.
"The new protocols take more time and more supplies with less volume to support. I have decided to outsource many of the tasks that I had handled in the past. I need the time to take care of our patients and staff during these transitional and unprecedented times. Outsourcing insurance verification and claim processing, statement billing, and collection efforts have improved our cash flow and given me the time I need to take care of patients. Accounts payable, bookkeeping, and payroll will be outsourced next.
"My most important and most rewarding job is communicating with all our patients via our website and through our patient communication software and the phone. It was important to reach out to our patients and let them know that we were not going away. Also, letting them know that we were here and ready should they need us.
"When we initially shut down, there were no masks to be found for the community. We passed out free masks on a Saturday, and we had a line blocks long to get the coveted masks. We received about 5,000 hits on our free mask article. People were so happy that many said they wanted to be our patients when the pandemic was over.
"Currently, we are preparing to open per the state mandates. We have a full schedule for a couple of weeks. I am happy to say that there are some very helpful resources from the ADA to gather knowledge and support to get back to work.
"My work has changed, but my commitment to bring our practice back has not. We are in this together, and we will succeed."
*Kim James is an alias. The office manager's real name was changed for use in this article at her request.
James Anderson, DMD, is a practicing dentist in Syracuse, UT, and is the CEO and founder of eAssist Dental Solutions. He can be reached via email.
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