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Postpandemic Challenges and Solutions in Dentistry

November 17, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic changed the dental industry forever. In March and April of 2020, shortly after the nationwide lockdown, the use of dental services fell by more than 70 percent. Despite reopening many practices by late summer, only 47.6 percent reported business was back to normal by August 2020. In addition to a reduction in the patient base and scheduled hygiene appointments, dental practices faced staffing challenges. With a generous unemployment payout, many Americans opted to stay home. Another issue was that many medical programs canceled their in-person clinics and certifications, meaning that the next wave of dental hygienists was held back a semester or more.

Outside of staffing challenges, many dental offices continue to struggle moving forward. Financial concerns are rampant for many dentists and healthcare professionals. Patient mindset is shifting to a more conservative approach to healthcare, and quality in providers is more important than ever before. Therefore, it’s essential to stand out from the crowd in an increasingly crowded market and differentiate yourself as an industry leader with technology, quality of service, and education.

Let’s discuss the post-pandemic challenges in dentistry and how to overcome them in further detail.

Recruiting

For many dental offices, talented acquisition is the #1 priority. The key is to find the best people you can, train the heck out of them, and never let them go. Unfortunately, that was put to the test during the pandemic. Some employees went home during the lockdown and never came back. In fact, studies show that around 17.6 million Americans didn’t or won’t return to their prepandemic workplace, whether by choice or not. Many of these individuals have found new ways to make money while also prioritizing spending time with their families and personal lives. And the pandemic taught us that the flexibility of remote work and not having a centralized place to work every day is extremely nice. The standard of going into the office every day is now seen by many as dated and undesirable. That said, not all jobs allow for this modern standard.

Employees working in the healthcare sector, for example, cannot do their job remotely. Dental professionals, surgeons, pediatricians, etc., must complete their responsibilities in-office. Unfortunately for the people in charge, this can make it challenging to recruit new employees. So, the question is this: How do we get over this hurdle and entice suitable candidates to join our team? The answer starts with, and will always be about, the people.

How you treat people in good times, and even more so in the bad times, will determine your success in recruitment and retention. Many individuals are floating along right now, unsure of their next move as they reevaluate their career path and workplace. To make matters worse, employee burnout is on the rise—up to 44 percent postpandemic. This means that employers can anticipate a rocky road ahead with continual changes to their staff as the dust still settles. As you’re looking for new employees to fill your current openings, there are a couple of things to consider.

1. Hire the right people.

For one, don’t make bad hiring decisions. It’s better to go without than to hire poor, sloppy, unprofessional workers. A 2016 survey showed that a bad hire can cost a company tremendously—upwards of $25,000. Outside of the financial hit, a bad employee can worsen team relations, bring down company culture, and lead to catastrophe in the future. While being understaffed can be exhausting, it always pays to be patient and invest in the right people.

It is also essential to hire the right person for the right role, depending on their personality. For example, many dental offices find that individuals with a background in customer service make excellent hygienists. This is because they are personable, kind-hearted, and able to handle many kinds of social situations. Consider bringing these individuals on and training them in-house. This will allow you to mold your staff to suit your practice better and give them opportunities they might not have otherwise had. It’s a win-win situation.

2. Ensure your current staff is happy.

It’s essential to build a positive and rewarding work environment with generous benefits and flexible schedules. Develop a career path for your employees, and guide them to accomplish these goals. Success, especially in dentistry, requires a strong team. Show your staff that they have opportunities to grow, develop, and advance financially and in their careers.

Your staff’s happiness depends on more than their professional lives. Show your team that you care about them beyond their work. Get to know your employees on a more personal level to begin to develop a stronger relationship.

3. Perfect your onboarding process. 

Creating a positive work environment begins on day one. Don’t let your team down. Instead, create something that they want to be a part of for years to come. Check-ins are an essential part of maintaining strong relationships and open communication with your team. Additionally, make sure your new hires have a solid understanding of your company goals and values. This will ensure a positive experience from start to finish.

In short, invest in your employees. Excellent retention leads to a successful practice.

New Markets and Growth Moving Forward

Postpandemic, another concern for many dental practices is competing in the healthcare space moving forward. There has been a noticeable shift in the patient mindset. They are taking a more conservative approach to healthcare and are taking extra notice of the quality of providers. Bedside manner, onsite technology, staff friendliness, and flexibility are just some categories that patients consider when finding new providers. It’s essential to stay up to date with the latest trends and education and go above and beyond for your patients and staff.

1. Expand your offering.

One tip is to consider implementing new services in your practice. Invisalign, implant-based treatments, arch procedures, etc., are some excellent options that not only diversify your dental office but can bring in additional revenue and expand your patient base. Patients want great smiles. They want to feel healthy and confident. With the rise of social media influencers, oral health and bright, straight smiles are more important than ever before. Pay attention to the services that new and existing patients want, and identify ways to give your team the necessary training and expertise they need to implement these new treatments into their daily model.

2. Focus on OSA.

On a related note, dentistry is changing to become more holistic and focus more on sleep and airway. It’s essential to stay on top of the changing landscape and innovate to continue growing and succeeding. Consider expanding your practice to include treatment for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), as it’s a new frontier of dentistry that’s perfect for expansion and makes a real difference in people’s lives. This is made easy by partnering with the right company, such as Vivos Therapeutics, Inc., who can take the guesswork out of integrating sleep and airway and provide you and your team with education and support from start to finish.

3. Consider a new location.

For providers looking to expand and open a new practice, find an area that isn’t too dense or congested with competitors when selecting a location. This is also an excellent way to bring dentistry to those who need it most. Studies show that around 20 percent of Americans lack convenient access to dental services. These individuals are eager to see new providers invest in their area and healthcare. Additionally, look for areas with a dental school that isn’t too filled with DSO footprints. This allows for great opportunities to network and recruit new graduates. Finally, consider less developed states or more rural areas, and structure your practice so that your partners are committed and willing to invest in the long-term success and future of your practice.

Seizing on New Technologies

Current concerns about the dental industry largely surround a perceived lack of innovation. Dentists themselves are often hesitant to evolve, whereas many individuals with a business background or understanding of technology are better-suited to drive this growth. The scarcity mindset puts innovation at risk, and dentists are hesitant to change their practices as long as their patients continue to come in. To combat this, our focus should instead be on reducing patient friction and improving their overall experience. Technology is an essential component of this, as patients desire a more seamless experience in scheduling and communication.

Push notifications, apps, and online communication are crucial and allow for a more secure, HIPAA-compliant model. It benefits the patient, but it also helps your team. These digital components also allow for opportunities to link dental and medicine, creating a more comprehensive model that focuses on the entire patient, not just one specific area. Dentists have the chance to take the lead on this transition, drive innovation, and take a leadership role in how medicine evolves.

The key is to be proactive and think ahead. Ask yourself if you are doing enough to grow and meet the current needs and standards of patients. If not, it’s the perfect time to start. Consider attending a CE course on new science and technology, network with other professionals old and young, and read the latest literature. This will ensure you’re competitive in the dental space for years to come.

Some examples of new technologies include 3D printing technology, AI, and tooth remineralization. Each of these solves a unique problem, allowing for a more cost-effective and comprehensive healthcare solution. For example, dental restorations created using 3D printing are more dimensionally accurate, cheaper, and more durable—not to mention that patients have more control over aesthetics and comfortability, making them much happier with the results. One such company that has maximized upon this technology is Invisalign, the popular at-home, clear orthodontic retainers that straighten your teeth at a fraction of the cost of traditional braces.

Separating Yourself in a Competitive Market

Separating yourself from a highly competitive market can be difficult. But you can make it easy by understanding the key to success: Is it’s all about the people. The mindset that employees are expendable and replaceable is toxic and should be avoided at all costs. Value your employees and see them as fundamental parts of your team, invest in them and their professional and personal growth, and watch them thrive. Their success is your success. Show people that they matter. Empathy-fueled actions are essential to developing lasting and reliable relationships with your employees.

Additionally, value your patients. Show them you care, invest in their healthcare by offering the latest and greatest in treatments and procedures, and get to know them on a personal level. Adding personal touches—such as advanced communication technologies, personalized appointment reminders, and birthday messages—will go a long way in enhancing your patient satisfaction. Exceptional care relies on meeting and exceeding expectations in every component of the patient journey.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed the landscape of dentistry forever. From staffing challenges to increased competition in the healthcare industry, dental professionals were forced to overcome greater hurdles than ever before. That said, by focusing on internal development, staff relations, and patient satisfaction, you will ensure a better and brighter road ahead.