How to overcome the 'pandemic plateau' in your practice

By James Anderson, DMD, DrBicuspid contributing writer

September 10, 2020 -- We've heard plenty lately about plateaus associated with the measured spread of COVID-19 cases. We want to see the numbers stop rising to slow the spread. In this situation, a plateau is a good sign that the virus is slowing in growth. However, reaching a plateau in business growth gives cause for concern.

James Anderson, DMD
James Anderson, DMD.

The ADA is busy monitoring the numbers, and it is apparent that dentistry is at most a "fluid" business. We try to bring new technology, new equipment, and new protocols to fight the pandemic's grip on our companies and give peace of mind to our patients. A plateau can be a bump in the road that upsets the normal flow temporarily, or it can be a tree-sized roadblock that puts a halt to growth and profit for a longer length of time.

The plateau of business growth for dental practices means getting back to as close to "normal" as possible amid the COVID-19 crisis. There was a resurgence when we first reopened to accept more than just "emergency" patients, and the numbers climbed steadily until recently. According to the ADA, the climb is slowing down and has plateaued to 70% of the pre-COVID levels. Some practices are doing better than others, with the pang of "it isn't what it was."

What are some of the issues and challenges that are slowing down growth in our practices right now?

What used to work doesn't work anymore

The development of a new business plan is in order. We must rethink the scheduling, distancing, screening, staffing, and infection protocols. Work with the team to identify a better way to move your patients through the new process at the desk, the chair, and dismissal. Time management is crucial to meet the challenge of seeing more patients each day and to "triage" patients more effectively to determine what resources in materials and staff will be necessary to take care of each patient.

Insurance payments have slowed down

Along with the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic, what we don't need is a delay in payment on dental claims by insurance payors. While every business and every person has been affected by the pandemic, we can't use this as an excuse to give substandard attention. Dental offices are responsible for explaining the treatment, associated insurance estimates, and out-of-pocket costs to patients before treatment. The ADA has received multiple complaints from dental practices not being able to get through to dental payors to receive essential benefits information and current and correct patient eligibility. There has been a rise in practices having to refund payments because patients were not insured at the time, and there were miscommunications between employers and payors.

Payors are quick to point out that predetermination was not received before treatment, knowing that the predetermination has never been a payment guarantee, only an estimate of possible payment.

Plateaus in production can result from delays in insurance payments and insurance estimates and verification of eligibility and benefits. Many practices now have fewer staff members who can stay on the phone with insurance companies. Consider outsourcing this vital part of the payment process to a dental billing company that has the time to sit on the phone awaiting a verification.

Is your online presence pre-COVID-19?

If your website is older than 6 years, it is time to bring it current to the new world, especially during the pandemic. More people are home and more online. People need to see the dentist, and where do they go to find reassurance that all will be okay? Your website, of course. Ensure that you have updated the information regarding the patient's experience when visiting your practice during the pandemic. Fewer patients in the chair will power down the practice growth. Personally reach out to your active patient base to "check in" to answer any questions they may have about your practice and safety protocols.

Don't accept a practice plateau as inevitable during this crisis. You and your team can break through the roadblocks and spur growth with passion, planning, and caring.

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.

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.


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