We all thought life would go back to normal when 2020 ended. As the dental community knows all too well, that’s far from what happened. But, 2021 did leave us with some valuable lessons. Here’s a look at a few key takeaways.
1. Compassion Matters More than Ever
Everyone knows the pandemic hit people hard. Depression rates tripled from 8.5 percent to 27.8 percent in the early months of 2020 according to research presented by the Boston University School of Public Health. But what many people don’t realize is that depression rates climbed even higher to 32.8 percent this past year. Low-income adults and unmarried adults are most at risk. More than half of adults report feeling burned out, per Forbes, with younger generations reaching as high as a 59 percent burnout rate. The country is now experiencing what’s been coined the “Great Resignation” as millions leave their jobs.
Pair this with the stress of social distancing, uncertainty as waves of new COVID strains crash over the nation, remote work, and families balancing all this with kids at home—it’s no wonder patients are feeling more stressed than ever.
“Pandemic Bruxism” is even a thing. Research shows a 12 percent increase in teeth grinding and a 15 percent hike in daytime clenching. More than 70 percent of dentists report seeing an uptick in these conditions, per ADA research, with more than 60 percent seeing more TMJ symptoms as well as cracked and broken teeth as a result.
Compassion has always mattered in the dental industry, but dentists and their teams must be acutely tuned into patient challenges, particularly as reports of dental pain, financial constraints, and scheduling conflicts arise.
2. Self-Care is Critical
Dental professionals, of course, are not immune to the challenges patients are facing. In all, 54 percent of dentists reported having medium or high levels of depression in the 2021 Dentist Health and Well-Being Survey, compared to 22 percent in the 2015 report. The ADA has a COVID-19 Mental Health Resources section with helpful information if you or someone you know is struggling. A few things that can help include:
- Getting adequate nutrition, exercise, and sleep.
- Making work/life balance a priority.
- Delegating tasks, especially administrative ones, as much as possible.
- Reaching out to a mental health professional if you start to feel symptoms of depression, such as difficulty coping with patients or stress, irritability, or loss of interest in things you usually care about.
3. Practices Need to Be Flexible and Agile
It’s often said that “change is the only constant,” but the number of upheavals dental practices have had to contend with over the past two years is astounding. While you may not be able to prevent a slew of cancellations when fears over an outbreak emerge, you can proactively install mass communication tools like email and texting to get the word out quickly when plans change, reassure patients, or fill your schedule fast. Adaptability with financial arrangements in the form of in-house payment plans and payment plans guaranteed through a service like DocPay can help too.
Because each production and revenue-generating opportunity matters, dentists are using tools like Smart Caller ID as well. It displays information like balances and overdue recalls on-screen when a patient calls in, so team members don’t have to manually check, and no opportunities are missed.
4. Necessity is the Mother of Invention
As contactless everything has slid into the popular vernacular, dentists are going paperless more and more. Here at Practice-Web, we’ve noticed a major uptick in dentists leveraging our paperless online and mobile patient forms (free with support) and pay-by-text (also free with support).
We’ve heard from many dentists who are leveraging remote teams too. What once started as a pandemic necessity appears here to stay as administrative assistants field patient calls, manage billing, and more from home—all using Practice-Web via remote login.
5. Simple Tweaks Fix Revenue Leaks
Practices often get caught up in the idea that attracting new patients is the best way to generate more revenue. That’s part of the equation, but it’s not the best way for dentists to make money. You’ll actually generate more revenue by catering to your current patients and ensuring they’re well cared for.
Because dental practices have had to stay afloat with reduced patient counts and/or appointments the past couple of years, many have learned how to fix revenue leaks and seize the opportunities they do have. A few easy ways to fix common revenue leaks include:
- Pre-Appoint: Pre-appoint 7-8 out of every 10 hygiene patients. They’re more likely to come back if they’ve got something on the books!
- Reduce Attrition: Ensure patients come back by keeping a pulse on patient happiness with a tool like Patient Reviews and leveraging an effective recall and reactive strategy. (Watch Recall and Reactivation Secrets webinar)
- Maximize Production: Follow best practices for additional procedures at each appointment, such as keeping x-rays current and providing fluoride treatment when appropriate. (Watch 6 Marketing Strategies to Maximize Production from Existing Dental Patients webinar)
- Increase Revenue: Keep patients informed of practice specials and aware of cosmetic options.
- Educate Your Team: Share numbers with your team daily, so each person knows how they can contribute to the health of your practice.
- Minimize Schedule Holes: Avoid cancelations and no-shows with multiple reminders. (Watch 7 Proven Texting Strategies to Fill Chairs and Retain Patients webinar)
- Fill Schedule Holes: Fill schedule gaps quickly with your ASAP list. (Watch ASAP List tutorial)
- Increase Patients: Bring in new patients cost-effectively. (Watch How to Get 50 New Patients This Month webinar)
- Maximize Insurance Collections: Have accurate estimates and bill efficiently. (Watch How to Boost Insurance Collections webinar)
- Collect Effectively from Patients: Gain $5 million over the lifetime of your practice with proper patient billing strategies. (Watch How to Boost Patient Collections webinar)
6. Automation Can Relieve Staffing Pains
Perhaps the biggest pain for practices coming out of 2021 is staffing. Overall, 43 percent of dentists say their practice’s ability to see more patients is limited by staff vacancies per recent ADA surveys. Nearly all practices trying to recruit a hygienist or dental assistant say it’s challenging, and more than 90 percent say it’s challenging to fill administrative positions. There simply aren’t enough qualified professionals. Many practices aren’t even getting applications when they post jobs.
The only silver lining here is that practices are rapidly adopting technology that makes it easier to work with fewer hands. By bringing automation into the dental practice, offices are more efficient and profitable too. A few simple ways dental offices can save time are highlighted below.
- Integrated e-prescribing tools that automatically write back to the patient’s chart. (Learn more)
- Integrated teledentistry/ virtual smile consults that leverage all your existing workflows (scheduling through billing) and automatically archive the video in your patient’s chart. (Learn more)
- Chart notes/ shortcuts. (Learn more about Quick Notes and Auto Notes)
- Voice perio charting. (Learn more)
Business Office Automation
- Appointment reminders and confirmations. (Learn more)
- Import of patient forms data. (Learn more)
- Patient check-in and registration. (Learn more)
- Insurance verifications and eligibility checks. (Learn more)
- Online scheduling. (Learn more)
7. We Can Bounce Back from Anything
More than 90 percent of dentists report they’re back to pre-COVID patient volume levels according to the latest ADA survey. A full 17 percent are reporting growth too. In other words, despite the myriad of difficulties dentists faced in 2021, and the challenges practices are still overcoming, dental professionals are a resilient bunch. (Pat yourselves on the back. You guys rock!)
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