People and organizations are split about whether or not it’s safe to go back to the dentist.
According to a July 2020 survey by the Health Policy Institute (HPI), “72% of adults are comfortable visiting the dentist right now and another 14% are willing to go if they had some reassurance from their dentist, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or other authorities.”
But on August 11, the World Health Organization advised a delay of “nonessential dental care in areas of COVID-19 community transmission.”
The American Dental Association was quick to fire back. A day later on August 12, the ADA released a statement that the organization “‘respectfully yet strongly disagrees’ with the World Health Organization’s interim guidance recommending that ‘routine’ dental care be delayed in certain situations because of COVID-19.”
“Oral health is integral to overall health. Dentistry is essential health care,” ADA President Chad P. Gehani said. “Dentistry is essential health care because of its role in evaluating, diagnosing, preventing or treating oral diseases, which can affect systemic health.”
Your decision to re-open your dental clinic will be based on a variety of factors, including case counts in your own region, local health department recommendations, and your ability to invest in necessary safety protocols to protect your patients and staff.
We’re here to tell you it’s possible to safely re-open your dental clinic with some diligence, planning, adherence to CDC protocols, and the adoption of technology that removes the need for physical contact between your staff and patients.
Need a master reopening checklist for your dental practice? Download the How To Reopen Your Practice e-book.
If you read nothing else: Key takeaways
- Dental clinics face three main challenges for re-opening: securing PPE, communicating with patients, and following CDC protocols – but with adequate planning and implementation, your clinic can safely re-open when you feel it’s ready
- Ongoing patient communication after appointments includes sending patients information about safe reopening practices, clinic hygiene protocols, preventative care, at-home care guidelines after virtual appointments, and more
- Contactless visits can encourage social distancing and increase patient volume through HIPAA-compliant video chats that either screen patients or replace in-person appointments altogether
- Online payments mean contactless transactions, which keep your staff and your patients safe from disease transmission
- During COVID-19, you’ll need to collect more information about your patients online to eliminate paperwork
The challenges of reopening your dental practice
Dental clinics face three main challenges when re-opening:
- Following CDC and local health department protocols for re-opening
- Securing an adequate amount of PPE for staff
- Communicating safety protocols to patients
Here’s a blueprint you can follow to address these challenges as swiftly as possible.
Following CDC guidelines for safety protocols
While infection control and preparedness guidelines remain fairly consistent across the healthcare industry, administrative orders vary by region.
Check your health department’s website through the CDC and/or Twitter on a regular basis to keep up with the rapid flow of information. Here are some go-to resources to bookmark and visit often:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) case count map
- CDC resources for health departments
- CDC’s COVID-19 newsletter
- CDC State, Territorial, Local and Tribal Health Department Search
- Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 U.S. county map
- Follow your region’s health department on Twitter for real-time updates
As of August 4, the CDC recommends that, “In areas with moderate to substantial community transmission, during patient encounters with patients not suspected of SARS-CoV-2 infection, CDC recommends that dental healthcare personnel (DHCP):
- Wear eye protection in addition to their facemask to ensure the eyes, nose, and mouth are all protected from exposure to respiratory secretions during patient care encounters, including those where splashes and sprays are not anticipated.
- Use an N95 respirator or a respirator that offers an equivalent or higher level of protection during aerosol-generating procedures.”
The CDC also recommends using telemedicine solutions to “triage all patients in need of dental care. Assess the patient’s dental condition and determine whether the patient needs to be seen in the dental setting. Use teledentistry options as alternatives to in-office care.”
Securing adequate PPE supplies
Securing PPE during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge for all healthcare providers, given the surge in demand.
As a result, the CDC put together a guide for optimizing PPE supplies during shortages. To take advantage of the CDC recommendations, you’ll first need to assess the following for your clinic:
- Your current PPE inventory and supply chain
- Your PPE burn rate (use the CDC’s calculator to understand your clinic’s burn rate)
- Local healthcare coalition strategies to obtain PPE supplies
- Conventional capacity measures – your clinic’s status quo for PPE supplies before the pandemic
- PPE donning and doffing training for staff
When you understand your baseline PPE supply, you’ll be in a great position to assess a potential increase in procurement. The CDC classifies second- and third-level capacity as “contingency” and “crisis” capacity, which are temporary measures during PPE shortages.
Refer to CDC guidelines for more on how to optimize your clinic’s procurement and use of PPE during the pandemic.
Communicating with patients
Ongoing patient communication is essential during the pandemic, when information is flowing almost too quickly to keep up with.
Pre-appointment email and/or text reminders for patients include messages that clarify mask policies, ask patients to attend appointments alone if possible, and direct patients to wait in their car until it’s time for their appointment.
Post-appointment patient communication can mean sending your patients emails and/or text messages before they even reach the parking lot, or immediately after a virtual visit.
Above-and-beyond communication means sending at-home care guidelines and protocol changes to patients on an ongoing basis with text and email campaigns.
If you don’t know what to communicate because there’s too much to sift through during the pandemic, here are some topics to consider.
Communication messages for patients during COVID-19
- Your timeline for re-opening your practice
- Sanitization and PPE protocols at your clinic
- Whether a patient at your clinic has contracted COVID-19
- What to expect during an in-person appointment
- Patient procedures that will still be taking place at your clinic
- Patient procedures that may be postponed due to COVID-19
- How to reschedule appointments that were postponed during the first phases of the pandemic
- At-home care guidelines after virtual appointments
- Requests for feedback from patients so you can improve safety and overall experience
- Preventative care best practices to eliminate the need for in-person appointments
Get the advanced patient communication checklist. Download the How To Reopen Your Practice e-book.
How NexHealth supports safer reopenings for dental clinics
Difficult times pave the way for innovation, and primary care providers who implement technology as part of their reopening plans will better be able to serve patients until there is a vaccine for COVID-19. HIPAA-compliant telehealth solutions help providers fill in gaps in primary care when they reopen at reduced physical capacity.
Your practice can meet the needs of this new opportunity if you’re able to build trust with patients through efficient communication, seamless telehealth practices, and end-to-end virtual experiences that reduce risk to staff and other patients. There is no better time to maximize your practice’s use of telehealth and digital solutions to acquire new patients and create a better experience for your existing ones.
Contactless visits with telemedicine
The use of telehealth software has skyrocketed since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While patients are hesitant to seek medical care at a hospital, they may be just as reluctant to visit your clinic in person for primary healthcare services like:
- Symptom evaluations
- Diagnosis and treatment of common minor conditions
- Prescription drug refills
- Sick notes
- Medical referrals
- Lab work orders
- At-home care advice
The good news is that you can provide these services online.
Clinics don’t need to sacrifice on patient volume due to fear of COVID-19. Primary healthcare providers can instead increase patient volume by offering robust telehealth services that replace in-person appointments with HIPAA-compliant video chats.
Want step-by-step instructions on how to run the best virtual appointment? Download the How To Reopen Your Practice e-book.
Telemedicine implementation checklist
- Choose a HIPAA-compliant telehealth provider that integrates with your EHR
- Develop patient triage selection criteria for virtual appointments
- Determine mechanism for patient photo submissions
- Communicate patient triage protocol to clinic staff
- Test all staff webcams, microphones, speakers, and wireless internet connections, at their respective locations (at clinic and remote)
- Develop standard virtual appointment scripts for staff
- Practice virtual appointment flow with staff
Fact: Many states now require private insurance companies to reimburse providers for care via telemedicine.
In 2019, one in three Americans said they skipped medical treatment because of the cost.
While online billing may not remove financial barriers to healthcare, it does create new avenues for flexible payment plans that make it easier for patients to access a primary healthcare provider. And during COVID-19, online payments mean contactless transactions – keeping both your staff and your patients safe from disease transmission.
Online payment COVID-19 best practices
- Collect payment immediately after in-person and virtual appointments via text and/or email
- Set up special payment plans for patients affected by COVID-19
- Reduce number of reception staff required in-office as you eliminate physical methods of payment
Online payment implementation checklist
- Integrate online payment with your EHR – effective software reads treatment plans and bills patients based on their records
- Verify that electronic transfers are complete with your online banking portal
Fact: 80% of patients make their payment within 10 business days through NexHealth.
During COVID-19, you’ll need to collect more information about your patients online to eliminate paperwork and allow staff to remain informed when they’re working remotely outside your clinic.
If you’re operating at reduced capacity, online forms will eliminate the need to collect this information over the phone and allow your staff to focus on implementing and maintaining safety protocols instead.
Online form COVID-19 best practices
- Screen patients for COVID-related symptoms prior to their appointment
- Reduce exposure for staff and other patients by triaging in-person vs. virtual appointments
- Determine PPE needs for staff prior to a patient’s in-person appointment
Online form implementation checklist
- Integrate online forms with your online booking software and EHR
- Digitize all existing medical forms: consent forms, medical history, mental health screening, etc.
- Develop COVID-19 online screening form: symptoms, possible exposure, medical history, etc.
- Send COVID-19 online screening forms to all patients as part of their online booking experience
- Verify that all online form data is syncing with your EHR and other practice management software
Get the complete guide to re-opening your dental practice.
✅Infographic: The COVID-19 Safe Patient Journey
✅Your COVID-19 Practice Reopening Checklist
✅Pre-appointment best practices
✅During the appointment best practices
✅Post-appointment best practices