More dentists in a recent ADA Health Policy Institute (HPI) poll indicated having taken on more hygienist, assistant, or administrative duties than they had been performing before the COVID-19 pandemic, poll results HPI chief economist and vice president Marko Vujicic called "concerning, at least from a practice efficiency perspective."
The October 2023 Economic Outlook and Emerging Issues in Dentistry, a tracking poll that the HPI started in January 2022, asked whether dental practices’ workload is divided differently among staff since before the pandemic, with a third of respondents responding affirmatively. Of those, half of the dentists who responded indicated they’re performing more hygienist, assistant, or administrative jobs now.
In a LinkedIn post, Vujicic said the data continues to show staffing shortages are a major issue in the dental sector and that the poll results are concerning, at least in terms of practice efficiency.
In follow-up comments to DentistryIQ, Vujicic said a continuation of current trends will result in an unsustainable situation and continued margin compression in the next few years.
"Providers will need to get leaner, more efficient, and this involves moving everybody to the ‘top of their license.’ This is why the recent data are concerning, as they show the opposite: dentists are stepping in to do more hygiene, assisting, and administrative work in response to staffing shortages," he said. "This is simply not sustainable and, in my view, is going to lead to further practice consolidation where nonclinical functions are all centralized, with AI doing more and more of the work."
The poll also continued its evaluation of such core measures as confidence in the economy, schedule busyness, and dental team recruitment.
Confidence in the economy
Looking ahead six months, October respondents’ confidence in their dental practice and the dental care sector stayed around the same as the previous month, while confidence in the US economy went down.
Practice schedules were 84% full in October, a lower number in what’s been a mostly steady year. Other recent insights on practice and GP busyness indicate that “GP dentists are busier than ever,” with the percent indicating ‘too busy to treat all people requesting appointments’ or ‘provided care to all who requested appointments but was overworked’ at an all-time high.
Dental team recruitment
As has been the case for a number of months, more than a third of dentists polled are actively recruiting dental hygienists and dental assistants. The number of dentists actively recruiting dental hygienists and dental assistants went up slightly in October 2023, and dentists continue to say recruitment is extremely challenging and that staffing shortages are their top concern when looking ahead to the next six months.
Elizabeth S. Leaver is the digital content manager for Endeavor Business Media's dental group. She has a degree in journalism from Northeastern University in Boston and many years of experience working in niche industries, specializing in creating content, editing, content marketing, and publishing digital and magazine content. She lives in the Boston area; you can reach her at [email protected].