COVID-19 has caused so much unwanted change in our lives it's difficult to fully comprehend. It has resulted in my new, least favorite job (because I am terrible at it!) which is home school teacher to my 7 and 11 year old. While I miss visiting restaurants, the gym, movie theaters and shopping at Costco without a mask, I also miss going to work, my patients and my coworkers. I want to resume normal everyday life, not this new normal we are trying to create, my old normal! Every time I step out into public the reality of what is currently going on smacks me in my mask wearing face and reminds me that this isn't going away any time soon.
This is a huge adjustment for those of us working in dentistry, but we need to remember it is also a BIG adjustment for our patients. The plexiglass that now separates us from the check out person at the grocery store seems cold and disconnected, so I only imagine what patients, who are accustomed to warm personal appointments will feel when we emerge from a cloud of disinfectant fog in a hazmat suit wearing what appears to be a flimsy welders shield.
I work with offices that are focused on providing patient centered, exceptional dental care/experiences. To provide that kind of atmosphere we put a lot of effort into building relationships with our patients. While figuring out the logistics of acquiring the proper PPE and keeping our team members and patients safe lets try to go the extra mile and remember we are there with a goal of also making them feel comfortable.
Here are 5 things I am suggesting to the offices I work with to help improve the patient dental experience:
1. IMPROVE COMMUNICATION
Right now is a great time to communicate with patients through social media and newsletters, the more contact you can have, the better.
Below is an info-graphic that I have set up for numerous offices, you are welcome to use and edit it or if you need help please contact me: email@example.com.
I recommend calling all patients at least 48 hours prior to their appointment, although the automated reminders are typically the way to go, right now I would also personally call. Check in on them, confirm their appointment and run through what their appointment will look like, setting and managing expectations prior to them entering the office will make this transition easier for everyone involved.
These calls can't drag on forever but you also don't want a drill sargent making them. This call can create a sense of caring while also addressing issues ahead of time and safe you from dealing with problems while they are in the office.
2. STAY POSITIVE
For many patients a visit to the dentist will feel like another area of their life that has changed for the worse. We know that even during regular times most people don't look forward to dental appointments and many have a certain amount of dental fear/ anxiety. If "white coat syndrome" was a thing before, COVID-19 has taken it to a new level!
The faster we can move our patients past the initial shock of our upgraded PPE and the new protocols the better. If you have team members who tend to focus on the negative, helping them stay positive will also be important. We can and should be honest and transparent that this is a difficult time but continuously dwelling on this will not help anyone or anything.
Working with your team on verbiage and talking points to focus on the positive will help them guide their conversations during appointments.
how happy we are to be back doing what we love
how fortunate we are that our doctors are providing everything needed to keep the team and patients safe
have statistics and facts readily available to show how dentistry has always taken massive precautions to protect ourselves and patients from disease
the addition of masks and gloves somewhere around 1985 as a result of
AIDS and Hep B
In general people can benefit from a dose of positivity right now, they can find negativity everywhere else. Sending your patients out the door feeling more hopeful than when they walked in should be considered a victory!
3. PERSONALIZE WHERE POSSIBLE
Most of us are now close to unrecognizable since we are covered from head to toe, having your team members names embroidered on their lab coats or providing them with a name tag is something to consider. If someone in your office is crafty and has a Cricket consider personalizing the face shields.
I also like the idea of putting a printed out card in the patients goodie bag that is signed by whoever is seeing the patient (these can be signed prior to the appointment so they are ready to go). This is an extra touch, it lets the patient know you are there if they need you and reminds them of ALL the ways they can connect and communicate with your office.
4. SHOW YOUR SMILES...IN A NEW WAY
If you have a TV in your waiting room/ reception area a team photo of welcoming smiles is a great use of that technology right now. Having a framed team photo would also work. Anything to show the personal side of your team...behind the PPE.
5. FOLLOW UP
Follow up with patients who will appreciate you following up, don't torture yourself trying to connect with every patient. If you treated a patient who seemed like they were struggling with life at the moment or there is something that warrants follow up send a card or give them a call. Right now is a huge opportunity to build strong relationships with patients.
Dentistry has fought hard to educate our patients and the medical community on how important we are in achieving overall health. As we continue to find our way through this epidemic I think we will begin to see that we have an opportunity to not only help our patients achieve dental health and physical health but we will now be playing a more important role in many patients emotional health.
~Cheers to everyone doing the best they can for themselves, their teams and their patients!~