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Pros and cons of opening your dental practice during COVID-19

The spread of COVID-19 is having an earth-shattering impact on most businesses, and dental practices have not been lucky either. Many are restricting their practice to emergency and urgent cases only, while others are opting to remain closed for several weeks until normalcy returns. Some states have closed dental practices entirely. According to California’s Dental Association president, Dr. Richard Nagy, such regulations and decisions are meant to ensure that dentists and their staff, as well as their patients, are safe from Coronavirus disease. 

Without a doubt, this crisis has caused a lot of fear and uncertainties among dental practice owners. However, besides the anxiety surrounding the whole situation, it’s surprising to note that there is a brighter side of this too. Of course, this is not meant to play down the seriousness of the pandemic; rather, an avenue to discuss the opportunities and threats that dental businesses may encounter as we go forward.  

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In other words, just as there are threats, there are opportunities even during a crisis. And every business, dental business included, should always be ready to turn any crisis to their advantage.  Let’s explore some pros of staying open for emergencies, at this moment in time, before we delve into the shortcomings.  

PRO — The privilege of serving humanity even in difficult times

Leo Tolstoy said, “The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity.”

What healthcare and dental professionals are going through presently goes well beyond burnout. They are working like firefighters in a continually burning shopping mall dedicated to saving shoppers while facing danger themselves. 

As people continue to pour tributes to healthcare workers, many have come to realize that not all heroes wear capes. Actually, in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, the real heroes are wearing scrubs.  

The ability to impact patients’ lives positively during these trying times is one of the biggest accomplishments for practices that have opted to remain open. As a dentist or dental hygienist, nothing beats waking up daily, knowing you can make a difference. Imagine how happy patients suffering from severe dental pain or dental trauma can be when they realize that there are clinics still open ready to attend to them. 

Any opportunity of making the world a better place is always a good opportunity. There is something money can't buy — purpose. When you are working for a greater purpose — something superior to yourself — you are not only likely to enjoy your profession, but also bounce back from a crisis and endure the trying times with greater ease.  

PRO — Being above the crowd

Dave May, a professional baseball player, once said, “Why march to the beat of your own drummer when you can skip?

Every dental practice owner who has ever competed in a normal market agrees that one of the hardest challenges is to get noticed. When every dental clinic is open, it becomes somewhat tough to attract the attention of potential clients.

On the contrary, dental practices that are open for emergencies, even at a time like now when the economies are on a decline, can benefit immensely.  Although patients may not be willing to spend much on dental care at such a time, the overall slump in market activity makes it simple for the still-operational clinics to make a name for themselves, and most importantly, some money out of it.

That said, this increase in business might be transitory; so, don’t take advantage of the situation by charging more. In the wake of a disaster, some businesses try to make super normal profits by hiking up the prices of essential services. You don’t wish to be one of those businesses, as this can leave a bad taste on the mouths of your patients and community at large.

CON — Employee absenteeism and risk of contracting COVID-19

Everything that has pros will definitely have some cons. As the true impact of the Coronavirus becomes apparent, dental practices that are still open are facing a lot of challenges in protecting their employees. The New York Times reported that dentists and other dental professionals are among the workers who face the greatest risk of contracting COVID-19.

The manner in which Coronavirus spreads via droplets in the air, a typical exam situation in a dental clinic, would be fairly high risk. When hygienists, for instance, do procedures with drilling or cleaning tools, they aerosolize saliva, a process that helps the virus to spread more rapidly.

COVID19 handout dental practices pdf file

As such, dental workers are grappling with tough choices, and many dental offices that are still open are experiencing a lot of employee absenteeism and other related staffing problems. There will be employees who:

  • Are refusing to report to work out of fear
  • Are already sick and cannot work as a result
  • Are asymptomatic and cannot come to work
  • Have shown signs and symptoms, hence in self-quarantined

As a dental practice owner who is still open to emergencies, do you still keep a worker who is self-isolating in your payroll? When an employee opts to stay at home as a result of a lockdown, will you fire them? As you can see, besides the risk of contracting the virus, there are other concerns that dental practices are facing. 

That said, some practices have devised ways to handle the absenteeism situation as humanly as possible. For some, the absence is being handled as paid time off, while others are treating it as short-term disability leave.

CON —The drop-off in foot traffic

If you are situated in cities that have been most affected by the pandemic, you may experience a decrease in traffic as most clients opt to stay at home and implement social distancing. In fact, the federal and state governments have started to announce plans to help local businesses keep their doors open

In short, uncertain times like these will affect the spending habits of your patients. Therefore, face the reality that you may lose clients along the way, simply because they can’t afford to keep on paying for dental services.  

CON — Dental equipment supply chain interruption

Lastly, dental practices may find it hard to access dental equipment supplies from their vendors as the pandemic spread. Supply chain interruptions have particularly been experienced by dental businesses that source their equipment from the highly affected cities such as New York City

Also, it is likely that the uncertainty in the global market and the high demand for specific products (soap, cleaning supplies, hand sanitizers) over others, is affecting the general flow of medical supplies to dental offices.

What are the available options for dental practices that wish to remain open?

Dental practices that are operating during these trying times are carefully weighing options on how their operations can be improved to ensure the safety of their patients, employees, or anyone else who may want to seek their services.

How then can they appreciate the environment they are currently living in and adapt to it?  What can they do differently to beat this monster?

Can dental practices operate in shifts to prevent COVID-19 spread?

Is it possible for dental offices based in the same neighborhood to operate in shifts?  For example, one clinic opting to open on a Monday, while the other opens on a Tuesday?

Why, one may ask? This is all about reducing density in our cities. When we talk about physical or social distancing, ideally, we should be at least 6 feet (1.83 m) away from the next person.  Take a look at a dense city like New York. That kind of social distancing is almost impossible, especially when every business is running normally.

Health officials have been warning against the risks of “community spread,” for example as seen in the City of New Rochelle, where more than 100 cases ballooned from a single case, prompting an isolation area and deployment of the National Guard.  

Thus, the option of “rotating” or opening in shifts may seem impractical, but it’s a novel alternative to reducing density in heavily populated cities.

Embracing virtual visits

The COVID-19 pandemic has sparked a conversation about one major healthcare technology: teledentistry. First, teledentistry can expand dental care providers’ patient panels, helping them to see more clients even during these strange times. Secondly, it can help protect dental professionals from contracting the disease themselves. 

For patients, the teledentistry technology can help those who are self-quarantined or think they may have contracted Coronavirus, access appropriate medications, or get referred to a healthcare provider for non-dental issues.

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We are residing in unprecedented times

Coronavirus arrived like a tidal wave and has notably changed our perspective on infectious diseases and the economy. Generally, the virus has a lot of dark sides. All over the world, people have gotten sick and died, healthcare systems have been overloaded, schools have been closed, employees have lost their jobs, and countries are spending millions of dollars on medical aid.

It’s understandable why many dental practices have closed their doors, or the few that are still open for emergencies, have narrowed their hours drastically.  

In other words, the Coronavirus pandemic is a huge stressor triggering our fears and uncertainties. However, regardless of how sad and serious all of this is, let’s not forget there can be an upside aspect as well. 

As Monty Python’s popular song, “Always look on the bright side of life” goes, it’s good to make the best of what adversities give us. And not forgetting the old SWOT analysis; there are not only threats in the business world, but also opportunities.