As dental practices begin to reopen across the country, new protocols regarding PPE and the facilitation of treatment are affecting clinicians and front office personnel alike. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us all to make life-altering adjustments in our personal and professional lives. A variety of tasks that were easily accomplished in a dental practice prior to the coronavirus outbreak are now consuming a discouraging amount of time. Navigating through all the change will take some trial and error, but if we manage our time wisely and utilize the technology available to us, we can maintain a healthy workflow.
Efficiency of workflow
Our phones have been ringing nonstop since we reopened. There are scores of patients who had their appointments cancelled due to the closure, and they are eager to get their oral health-care needs addressed. The appointment book is filling up rapidly, yet we face a glaring problem. We have no waiting room. Patients must be called in from the parking lot, get their temperatures taken, and fill out consent forms. Furthermore, patients are not brought in until the operatories are ready. By the time the operatory is sanitized, and I have wiped down my face shield, mask frame, and Hovershield (Molar Media Mount, LLC), the next patient should already be in the chair. You can imagine the predicament when multiple patients have the same appointment times. The workflow is disrupted at the beginning of every appointment. How are we going to adjust? Thankfully, our team wears radios with earpieces, allowing for instant communication with one another, regardless of location. Implementing this simple form of technology increases the awareness of each team member and adds efficiency to the workflow. These little gadgets are incredibly useful and have been in operation every day for more than 15 years.
There are countless dental software vendors competing to provide technology that streamlines a practice’s workflow, from registration to check-out. Teledentistry is taking the dental world by storm, and there are a host of vendors that have developed synchronous (real-time) and asynchronous (store and forward) communication platforms. Dental practices can address emergency calls and consultations virtually, and have the capability to share images/files, collaborate with colleagues, and send referrals. There are virtual waiting rooms, where an email/text can be sent to check patients in. In addition, patients can e-sign required consent forms prior to entering the building.
Teledentistry is here to stay, so it is a good idea to become familiar with it. Renowned dental software expert and author, Mike Uretz, recently released an e-book that does an excellent job of explaining the various aspects of teledentistry, and is a must-read for those who want to educate themselves on the topic.1 If your current software does not meet the everyday needs of the practice, there are companies that can help add/integrate software, without replacing your current practice management system. Finding appropriate software to fit your practice’s needs not only boosts productivity, but it saves valuable time as well.
Once the patient is sitting in the chair, clinicians must be extremely conscious of their time management. Getting started on treatment and being afforded the opportunity to work without interruptions can prove difficult. There are patients whom I have been seeing my entire career and they want to know how my family has been, see pictures of the kids, etc. This goes both ways, as I look forward to catching up with them too. However, it is vital to be open and honest about the importance of staying on time. In my experience, it is best to avoid topics of conversation that are emotionally charged and produce a lot of dialogue. For example, discussing politics can lead you down a rabbit hole, especially nowadays. Conversations should emulate a tandem bicycle ride on a paved trail, easy to stay together, and smooth. Thus, keep it light and focus on the treatment to be done. The patients who know you best will likely be the most understanding of your time constraints, so do not be afraid to steer your appointments and stay the course.
We have entered a new era in dentistry, and many of us are tapping into creative reserves that we did not even know existed. Now is the time to channel that creativity and respond. There is an opportunity to succeed if we communicate with one another and utilize the technology that is available to us.
Uretz M. Teledentistry Survival Guide, COVID-19 and Beyond! 2020. http://www.teledentistrysurvivalguide.com