A Pandemic Checklist for Dentists

Localogy Insider is examining how small businesses in a variety of categories are addressing the unprecedented challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. In this installment, Neal Polachek checks in with his friend “Dan the Dentist” to find out how he is adapting his practice to this crisis. Neal then offers a checklist for dentists to consider as they manage through this crisis. 

My childhood friend “Dan the Dentist” has been a part of my life for many decades. Today Dan is the subject of many of my most acute observations about how and why business owners do some things right, and miss the mark in other ways.

This seemed like an important moment to reach out to Dr. Dan Freeman and see how he was navigating this crisis. 

Dan the Dentist’s COVID-19 Plan 
  • Dan and his staff have been practicing the highest level of sanitation for over thirty years — masks, gloves, gowns, sterilization, etc. So he hasn’t had to make any changes in his clinical procedures.
  • He is now cleaning doorknobs, the reception desk, and waiting room furniture a couple times a day.
  • One of his primary jobs now is managing the fears of his staff and patients. He demonstrates a sense of order and reassures them that they’re taking all necessary precautions.
  • As of last Friday, he was still doing dentistry, though he said that he had a number of hygiene appointments for Monday had canceled on Friday. He usually charges a small fee for late cancellations, but these are now waived.
  • Sourcing supplies is challenging. Dan has plenty of masks — his team uses a 3 layer mask. But Dan’s supplier can only commit to sending him single-layer masks for the foreseeable future.
  • When we talked over the weekend he had decided not to send out an email or any messaging to his patients. He believed that would only create additional concern and confusion.
  • His front office staff had been trained on how to explain to patients that the staff was complying, as they have been for 30 years, with all best practices.
  • He is prepared to go to a half staff. Many of his staff have young children and they are now scrambling to figure out child care now that all the schools have closed.
Little Response from Bay Area Dentists

I searched around the internet to see if dentists around the Bay Area had posted anything on their websites regarding COVID-19. Remarkably I was not able to find a single dental practice that had any new language on their site. I can only conclude that many of the dental practices rely on outside resources for their websites and as a result, they’re unable to do updates in any real-time fashion. 

Seven Ideas for Dentists During the Crisis
  1. Reassure patients that the practice follows the strict clinical guidelines in terms of masks, gloves, gowns, etc. by making that information more prominent on the practice’s website, on signs in the office and in emails, billing statements and text messages.
  2. Communicate that the practice is on half staff and reducing the flow of patients. This is a version of social distancing.
  3. Add video to the practice’s website — the video would be a message from the dentist, and perhaps the team, outlining the importance of oral hygiene and reaffirming how the practice is addressing COVID-19.
  4. Waive any fees (as Dan has) for late cancellations.
  5. Drop standard fees for a period of time — perhaps the next two months — for patients that are on cash accounts. 
  6. Waive additional patient payments that are not covered by their insurance plan – e.g., if the insurance only pays 80% for a procedure
  7. Consider changing the practice hours in the near term to adjust to the variability of patient work from home situations. This may mean opening earlier or staying open later or offering weekend hours.
What Else Should Dentists Be Doing?

Jay Levine runs PBHS, a leading provider of websites and digital marketing for dental practices. He has been pushing his business to deliver a richer set of solutions for dental practices. He posted this on LinkedIn this week. 

I am sure there are other great ideas out there. Have you heard from your dentist proactively to communicate with you what steps they may be taking?

When I was messaging with Dan earlier this week he told me the California Dental Association recommended that all dental practices close – except for emergency treatments – for two weeks. Now the county I live in and Dan operates in is under a “shelter in place” order so for Dan the decision to close his practice for at least two weeks was made for him.

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