Last year presented unprecedented circumstances for the dental industry. From the threats of the global pandemic, to a complete shutdown, to a staggered reopening approach across the country, dental practices faced many challenges. Figuring out how to triage patients without the face-to-face option, bring in revenue, and maintain staffing levels are just a few of the issues that dentists experienced.
What was the real impact of 2020 on dental practices, and how is it affecting their views headed into the new year? We went to work to find this out directly from dental practices.
In November and December 2020, Vyne Dental commissioned a survey of 400 clients from across the US. Seventy-seven percent of respondents work in solo dental practices and 23% work in group dental practices.
The survey, State of the Dental Industry study, focused on just that—obtaining sentiments from real practice leaders in five key areas: impact of 2020, the industry, hiring, technology, and overall business outlook for 2021. Here’s what we learned.
Impact of 2020
The greatest impact of the pandemic on dental practices was financials, at 42%. Patient volume followed at 32%, and nearly half of respondents (47%) had to shift their investment priorities in 2020.
We know teledentistry services helped some practices triage patients in 2020, but to what degree was this service implemented? Seventy-two percent of dental practices surveyed did not offer teledentistry in 2020. Twenty-three percent of practices are considering it in 2021, and 62% said they would not offer the service in 2021.
You can’t run a dental practice without patients, and we wanted to know more about patients’ views on resuming dental services in 2021. Thirty percent of practice leaders said their patients are actively seeking treatment or services, 21% said patients are ready to resume treatment or services, 56% are willing to resume if safety protocols are in place, and 8% of patients will not resume treatment or services until a COVID-19 vaccine is available.
We heard many stories of severe business impacts during the second half of 2020 due to COVID-19. How did dental practices fare? As a result of the pandemic, a small percentage of practice leaders may consider selling in 2021 (8%). Four percent may consider a DSO affiliation, and 3% may consider merging with another practice. Just under 1% said they are considering a local hospital or health system affiliation. Most practices (84%) are considering “other” changes in 2021. When asked to specify, responses included dropping in-network status with insurance providers, expanding their services portfolio, and offering in-house patient payment plans.
Hiring and the economy
Based on current economic conditions and patient demand, 46% of practices said they are not planning to hire additional staff in 2021. Practices are also not planning to adjust current staffers’ schedules. In fact, 87% said that based on current conditions, they are not planning to turn part-time staff into full-time staff, or vice versa.
When it comes to perspectives on whether recruitment may be challenging for practices in 2021, the responses were split. Forty-eight percent said they felt it would be challenging, and 51% said they did not think it would be challenging.
Automated technology has enabled the industry to be more resilient during uncertain times. The pandemic increased the demand for technology options that allowed dentists to provide some level of care to patients when face-to-face was not an option. It provided remote check-in services for in-person appointments and allowed staff to work from home and complete tasks such as submit claims to support critical incoming revenue.
The top three motivators for seeking new software in 2021 were: reduce paperwork (16%), modernize the office (14%), and decrease costs of current software solutions (13%).
When it comes to software investment in 2021, 24% are planning to spend less than $299 per month, 11% plan to spend less than $500 per month, and almost 40% were not sure how much their practice planned to invest in technology.
The dental industry is always evolving, and many practices find it difficult to keep up. To navigate changes within their practice and the industry, 43% look to the American Dental Association for guidance. Twenty-nine percent turn to their local or state dental association, and 13% read industry publications.
Practices said that their preferred method of communication with patients in 2021 will be text message (53%). Email came in at 24%, and only 19% of practices preferred phone communication.
As you may expect, given the pandemic, patient volume is the top challenge practices anticipate for 2021 at 44%. Hiring and staffing and industry updates and regulations were the second and third challenges identified at 19% and 17% respectively.
When asked what actions could make their practices more productive or profitable in 2021, 38% said marketing. Thirty-one percent of practices said that less coding or industry changes would help them become more productive and profitable, and 26% said technology adoption.
The good news is that 86% of practice leaders are either confident (35%) or very confident (51%) in their practice’s future. Just 13% were somewhat confident or neutral about their practice’s outlook.
The reality is that 2020 was a tough year for many reasons and to different degrees for every practice. But through it all, dental practices remained resilient and are optimistic about what the future holds, despite all of the lasting impacts and challenges.Steve Roberts is the president of Vyne Dental. He has 20 years of dental industry experience, and before his position at Vyne, he worked at Weave HQ, Henry Schein One, and Henry Schein Practice Solutions.