Editor's note: This article first appeared in Dental Works, a newsletter providing staffing advice for dental practices and career guidance for dental professionals. The newsletter is published by DentistryIQ with support from onDiem. To subscribe, visit dentistryiq.com/subscribe.
After months of closures and lost revenue, dental practices have reopened across the United States—even as parts of the country deal with spikes that rival the early days of the pandemic. Debating whether reopening is right or wrong can feel like a luxury dental practices don’t have. For them, reopening feels less about economic success and more about economic survival. That's why many dentists are asking how they can remain open in a way that is safe, smart, and strategic.
Whether your practice has a backlog of patients who need to be worked in or a sparse schedule reflecting patients' hesitancy to go out, nothing about your calendar is likely to feel normal for some time. So how can you effectively meet patient demand without overextending your resources? Consider flexible staffing.
The staffing dilemma
Earlier this year, a number of practices had to make the hard decision about furloughing employees, some of whom did not return. Building a new team or expanding an existing team requires a belief that the practice won’t have to furlough again, which is hard to predict. It also requires faith that patient demand will return, which is a challenge to forecast even in the best of times. These two factors have a significant impact on a practices' biggest expense: labor.
“As you’re trying to determine your productivity needs in your office, labor is a huge variable," says Charles Mitchell, president of onDiem, a national on-demand staffing platform for dental practices and dental professionals. "You're trying to manage between different levels of client flow, and there is going to be a lot of variability in terms of what your days and weeks look like from a staffing perspective.”
Mitchell adds, “This makes flexibility not just an advantage, but a necessity. Embracing a flexible staffing model is the closest a dental practice can come to ‘COVID-proofing’ its bottom line.”
More than bringing in a “temp,” flexible staffing offers a number of benefits related to post-COVID planning and variations in patient demand. The advantages include:
- Avoiding increased permanent labor costs
- Replacing any lost team members when you’re ready with professionals who’ve already proven they’re a good fit
- Pacing your labor costs with patient demand (Scale up when demand increases and scale down to your minimum permanent team if demand dries up.)
“The entire reason the staffing industry exists in the first place is because businesses have always had instances where they couldn’t meet the needed staffing levels on a consistent basis,” Mitchell says. “It is important to have a workforce that meets your needs as an organization. Many dental practices are small businesses, and their productivity levels aren’t set up to support a more significant commitment to staff in terms of benefits or flexible scheduling.”
Mitchell explains that his company has tried to solve this problem by offering practices not just available dental professionals, but people who fit their unique practice needs, whether that is related to specific certifications, software, or technology they’ve used.
The question becomes: If flexible staffing is good for the dental practice, where does that leave the dental professional?
Supporting an anxious workforce
Flexible staffing is a good option for dental professionals. This is especially true as they deal with the uncertainty around school and childcare this fall, but also other challenging circumstances or personal choices.
“Most people need flexibility at work. Sometimes they can't work five days a week—whether they have other responsibilities or because it is the nature of how they want to work,” Mitchell says. “For dental hygienists or assistants who are concerned about another round of furloughs or reduced hours due to new practice budget constraints, working with a staffing partner allows the dental professional to work for multiple practices in a way that helps them maintain their income needs.”
Another significant fear related to reduced revenue or inconsistent hours is the risk of losing health-care benefits, which is even more important during the pandemic. In October of 2019—long before COVID-19 was reshaping the world around us—onDiem announced it would be able to provide health-care benefits for the dental professionals who used their services.
“This is about more than ‘building shifts,’ but caring for the people who care. If we can take care of things like health-care benefits, that allows dental hygienists and assistants to go into practices and do their best work,” Mitchell says. “Beyond hourly value or productivity for a practice, it is a good feeling for the dental professional to know they are supported.”