As many begin to reopen their dental practices post–COVID-19, there are a lot of changes that will affect the day-to-day workflow for office managers. Among the top protocols that you may have read about, infection control is certainly one of the most important. But I can assure you that infection control is number two when it comes to prioritizing how to protect your practice and staff. Infection control is something that all practices must embrace and use effectively, but there is another protocol that comes in at number one.
As office manager, the most critical protocol you should carry out is to make sure you implement a screening process for your practice. Screening patients before they arrive at your office plays a crucial role in infection prevention.
If you effectively screen patients before they arrive, you can help minimize the amount of contact you and your fellow staff members have with any positive COVID-19 patients. I have created a free downloadable screening form for you to use. This should be sent to patients 24 hours in advance of their appointments to make sure they’re not experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19. This questionnaire gives you a sense of who your patients have been in contact with and whether they might pose a risk to your team. Make sure to communicate the information patients provide on the form to the dentist, who will make the final decision about who does and does not enter the practice.
As for scheduling patients, it is imperative that you create a system to minimize the number of patients in your waiting room. This starts with how your staff books appointments and the length of each appointment. Remember that social distancing is one way to keep the virus from spreading. This is why you must be diligent in extending appointment times and refraining from double or triple booking patients, especially if the office has a small waiting room. Another way to minimize the number of people lingering in your waiting room is to inform patients 24 hours before their appointments that they must arrive alone, and they may not bring anyone with them unless they are physically dependent on a caretaker or are the guardian of a child.
COVID-19 symptoms can occur at any moment, and that’s why temperature screening should be mandated at the front desk for every patient. You can purchase automated temperature verification kiosks that call for no interaction between patient and staff. You can also purchase handheld noncontact infrared thermometers. The screening can be done by a front desk employee who is wearing appropriate personal protective equipment as recommended by the American Dental Association, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Occupational Safety and Health Organization. Should a patient have a high temperature, you should recommend that the person reschedule his or her appointment.
These front desk precautions serve to protect your practice and staff. Team members must take this job seriously and question patients as if they are investigators in order to find out whether they pose a risk. Although the front desk staff may be at less risk for transmission of COVID-19 than the dental assistant, hygienist, or dentist, they must still be diligent in wearing appropriate PPE (face mask, face shield, gloves) and washing their hands frequently.
If you minimize the amount of direct contact you have with patients, you can minimize the risk of interacting with asymptomatic COVID-19 patients. This is why you must be diligent with each patient interaction, which is a bit different than what many of us have done in the past.
If you feel your dentist is not taking the necessary steps to protect everyone, the best thing to do is to call a meeting with all staff members and the dentist to discuss any fears or concerns you have regarding how the practice is handling necessary precautions for dealing with COVID-19
Stay well, and wishing you all the best!
Kyle L. Summerford is a nationally recognized practice management guru, author, and lecturer. He is founder and president of Summerford Solutions Inc., and cofounder of Elitedentalclaims.com. Kyle also serves as editorial director of Dental Office Manager Digest e-newsletter. He lectures extensively to dentists and their staff on topics such as insurance coding and billing and useful practice management tips. Contact him at [email protected].
Editor's note: To view DentistryIQ's full coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic, including original news articles, video interviews with dental thought leaders, and tips for returning to the office, visit the DentistryIQ COVID-19 Resource Center.