Increasing dental patient volume after SARS-CoV-2 lockdown
SACRAMENTO, Calif., U.S.: Dentistry has recently topped the list of the most dangerous jobs for risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission, and although dentists are slowly returning to normal practice, many patients feel anxious about returning to the dental office. The California Dental Association (CDA) has published a set of recommendations that will help dental staff offer reassurance to returning patients whose appointments were canceled or postponed as a result of the pandemic.
Prior to the reopening of dental practices worldwide, various experts had reviewed existing guidance for resuming dental care to support decision-making after lockdown. However, despite the existence of comprehensive national guidance, a recent survey conducted by the American Dental Association’s Health Policy Institute showed that, by June 29, 55.5% of open dental offices saw a reduced volume of patients. This could be explained by concerns about potential infection.
Rebuilding dental patients’ trust may take a while. Therefore, it is crucial to consider current recommendations on how to ensure safe practices in the workplace and let patients know that the practice is doing everything in its power to ensure patient comfort and safety.
Enhanced safety protocols
CDA believes that informing patients about what to expect from their first appointment after lockdown will offer a certain degree of reassurance. The dental staff should use emails, newsletters and social media in order to share information about updated cleaning and safety protocols. There should be a focus on messaging that promotes confidence, trust, safety and reassurance. It might also be good to mention that the dental team received staff training upon their return and are knowledgeable on the latest information regarding COVID-19.
Something that was not mentioned by the association but which may also prove useful is information about any surcharge fees for personal protective equipment. The dental practice might be adding these fees as a way to help cover some of the financial loss caused by the pandemic and to help replenish stock supplies. This information would help patients calculate possible dental expenses.
Other issues worth mentioning when in contact with dental patients include interim policies on wearing a mask when entering a building and information regarding maximum patient numbers in the dental office. As patients are also dealing with the situation for the first time, it might be good to create a FAQ section on the practice’s website in order to facilitate communication and provide transparency on the measures being taken by the practice.
Dental professionals can find more useful marketing and communication ideas, such as email templates and appointment reminders, here.
Making use of social media platforms
Just recently, Dental Tribune International published two articles in which it advised dental professionals on how to use social media in order to attract new patients and engage with the local community. Social media allows patients to see what a dentist’s typical day is like. Besides sharing educational material, such as new safety protocols, dentists could post engaging pictures and videos.
CDA recommends the posting of short videos showing the cleaning protocols followed between appointments in order to show how the staff is maintaining a safe working environment. Additionally, filming a walk-through video of the dental office could help patients anticipate what to expect during their visit. Finally, patients might find it interesting to read other patients’ testimonials or to watch videos offering oral health tips and support.
Dental Tribune International has recently reported that some patients had performed dental procedures on themselves owing to their inability to secure an appointment during lockdown. Teledentistry has helped dental professionals to stay connected with patients during the pandemic. By offering teledentistry, they were able to provide diagnostic tests, consultation and treatment without the risk of contracting the virus.
According to CDA, offering a 10-minute virtual check-up will help build rapport with reluctant patients and relieve any stress and anxiety. An article on the CDA website, titled “Teledentistry: A different way of delivering dental care,” gives additional guidance on providing virtual care.
Importance of oral hygiene
Patients need to be reminded that their dental and overall health is of crucial importance. This could be done through social media or during a virtual appointment by educating patients on the link between oral and overall health and offering tips on how to maintain optimal dental hygiene between appointments.
CDA also noted that dentists should remind patients about the importance of regular dental care and encourage them to book their next appointment on time. Finally, dentists should remain patient and understanding as patients and dental teams adjust to updated policies on providing and receiving care.
Editorial note: Additional material on educating patients about what to expect when returning to the dental office can be found on the American Dental Association’s website.