Adaptability, communication and kindness
Most dental practices are now open again. Many are offering restricted or re-organised services, which have required major operational changes. Helping practices to protect themselves from current challenges and those yet to come, renowned dental business consultant and coach, Chris Barrow, offers some advice.
He started by summarising the key challenges that his clients faced in the initial three weeks after re-opening:
“The first challenge is an obvious one, but still worth mentioning. Everyone has found the extra PPE incredibly uncomfortable to wear – not helped by the uncharacteristically warm weather we experienced in June.
“The second challenge is correctly putting together all the pieces of what has become the complex puzzle of practice management. Both clinical and commercial assessments have been and continue to be needed as practices gradually resume routine services. The pieces of the puzzle are as follows:
- How to split clinicians between surgeries in order to maximise appointment efficiency while protecting staff and patient safety.
- How to split focus on AGP and non-AGP appointments.
- Which clinicians should be brought back, in what order and when.
- Which team members are needed to support the clinical team.
- Whether patients are coming back and what types of treatments they require.
- If the team members are willing and able to come back to work.
“The puzzle is idiosyncratic for each practice, with all businesses needing their own unique solutions. That said, much can be gained by sharing experiences with the wider community of dental professionals. Everyone can learn from solutions that worked for others.
“Even once you’ve found pieces that seem to fit together, these might still change shape over time. Many practices organise team huddles several times a day to identify issues and develop their protocols. Practices that have been flexible and responsive to even the smallest nuisances are the strongest right now.”
The above is only possible with constant and open communication between team members and with patients as dental practices navigate the winding road to recovery.
“It’s essential that everyone within the practice talks daily,” Chris says. “Gone are the days of isolating in the surgery! Team huddles are mission-critical to ensure that everyone knows what’s going on and how they should adapt to the latest changes.
“In addition, communication with patients must continue. While I wouldn’t currently advise external marketing avenues for most practices, engaging with existing patients through social media, newsletters, blogs and podcasts, for example, should be business as usual. Asking patients for testimonials and online reviews can also be hugely beneficial.”
Given the anguish and uncertainly caused by events of 2020 so far, Chris summarises the two messages he believes the dental profession should take away:
“Firstly, the benefits of being debt-free and having three months of running expenses in the reserves at all times have become crystal clear. Notwithstanding the financial support some practices have accessed through the Government, NHS England and/or loan repayment deferrals, those with no fat on the bone faced the most stressful 2020. It has been a real wake up call for many and I think priorities will change to allow for greater financial security in the future.
“Secondly, I think the importance of being kind to other people and doing the right thing has come to the fore. Cheesy, perhaps, but still true. Those who supported others during the lockdown, sometimes at their own expense, have emerged heroes. Their acts of kindness will be remembered. I predict a shift in the market once things settle down as practices and individuals move away from those who were less kind in difficult times towards those who really supported them.”