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Lessons from COVID-19: A dental office manager’s perspective

Oct. 15, 2020
Front office expert Laura Hatch reflects on the challenges 2020 has presented so far, how she’s seen dental practices stumble, and how she’s seen them excel. Additionally, she offers tips for how practices can not only survive the pandemic, but thrive.
Laura Nelson, MS, FAADOM, Founder of Front Office Rocks

Well, that happened fast, didn’t it? Happy 2020! This was going to be an amazing, awesome year, yet by March, it became quite the opposite. Nobody could have imagined or anticipated that what we have gone through would happen, but here we are. This year has brought about some of the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Each one of us handled things the best we could with the information, knowledge, and support available. For that, we should take a minute to recognize all that we have been through and the fact that we’re still standing. Great job!

When things don’t go as expected, once I get through the brunt of it, I always try to look back and see what lessons could be learned. There are always going to be times in our lives where things go poorly or just not as planned. That is inevitable. That is life. However, if these situations teach us something, we can turn a negative into a positive. We can grow and learn from it. We can also make sure that if something similar happens again, we will be more prepared.

As an office manager or really anyone who works in a dental office, what can we learn from going through COVID-19 in 2020? 

What I've learned

Communication is key. Whether it be with our dentists, our patients, or within our own team, communicating the right information, in a timely manner, and on a regular basis can make the difference between a positive outcome and a negative one. I watched as many offices did not communicate well with their patients, failing to let them know their plan for closing down, opening back up, and getting patients rescheduled, as well as their plan for increased safety upon return. This resulted in many patients finding other dental offices or not returning due to lack of communication from their dental office.  

I also saw a difference in the teams that communicated well with each other throughout the shutdown and reopening versus the ones that did not. Many dentists opened their doors with few or no team members left because of the lack of communication and lack of a detailed plan on how they would move forward. Then there were the teams that not only stayed connected during this time, but also moved forward, working on areas that could be improved to create a stronger team upon their return.


This leads to the next topic: leadership. I believe that leadership is not just a title, but also an example, and there were a ton of great leaders that stepped up in many offices. On the other hand, there were some, including dentists and office managers, who could have done better. The stronger the office leadership, the more prepared the team was to rally and do what was best for the practice and patients.

Leaders are people who step up, take responsibility, jump in where needed, and lead by example. Going through the significant business bump that we have confronted in 2020 has really shown us who the leaders are, as well as which employees tend to sit back and wait to be told what to do. Worse yet, 2020 highlighted those who would rather not take any action and spend their energy complaining or making things worse.

I think that a big lesson here is to invest in the unexpected leaders that revealed themselves to you during this time. The employees who went the extra mile, rallied the troops, kept a positive attitude, or just did as much as they could to help out during this difficult time, they are your future leaders. Take the time to thank them, and then find ways to elevate them. They might not have a title after their name yet, but they proved their leadership skills when times were tough. Those are the team members you want to continue to grow and nurture.

On the topic of leadership, if you think that you had some areas that were lacking around this area, then take the time now to improve on those. If you, the practice owner, or those you expected to step up did not do so in the way you would have hoped for, seek guidance or give them the opportunity to learn and grow for the next time. Sometimes, lack of leadership is not just about not wanting to, but more about not knowing what to do. Find some training through courses, books, or whatever you think will help educate about the qualities of a good leader and how they can lead in good times and bad.


Finally, let’s address technology and those hesitant to fully embrace it in our industry. Most dental offices found themselves disconnected from their team members, their patients, and their next steps because they did not use technology to help in their communication and leadership.

If you are regularly using a fax machine as a form of communication, you are behind the times. Many offices lost touch with their patients and their team members because they did not have the right technology set up to support them. Granted, we cannot do dentistry at a distance, but we can communicate, lead, and connect with others using technology to have the office better prepared for when the opportunity to do dentistry opens up again. There are so many software platforms and services available to help dental offices stay connected and moving forward in the fastest and most efficient way possible. This year has shown us that it is time to embrace and integrate technology into our offices.

I hope when you look back at 2020, you are able to see that your office and team moved forward to a better place because of the struggles that you endured during that time. I challenge you to use these trying times as a wake-up call to strengthen the leadership, communication, and technology in your office. If you improve in these three areas, I promise you will not regret the lessons that you learned from your struggles this year.

Laura Hatch, BS, MS, FAADOM, founded Front Office Rocks, which offers web-based, on-demand front office training for dental practices. As the leading authority on virtual dental front office training, Laura helps dental professionals who want to be better at what they do gain the training they need through online video courses, live seminars, and coaching.
About the Author

Laura Nelson, MS, FAADOM | Founder of Front Office Rocks

Laura Nelson, MS, FAADOM, is the founder of Front Office Rocks, which provides an online training platform that delivers 24/7 educational resources, focusing on improving team efficiency and customer satisfaction. Laura cofounded Sober Life Rocks, which encourages sober choices at industry events. She wrote two books, Step Away from the Drill and Hiring without Hesitation, which share her strategies for excellence in practice management. Laura’s presentations and dedication to her field make her an inspiring speaker at dental conferences and seminars.

Updated April 29, 2024