Donna Hall shares Michael Bentley’s advice on how practice owners can bridge the gap left by the absence of other team leaders…
Following the closure of dental practices with staff either furloughed or working from home, many owners may have found themselves having to fill a ‘management gap’.
While the practice owner may be the overall leader or manager, most businesses are made up of several leaders at different levels. If those people are not able to work or be on the premises due to COVID-19, then it may fall to others to pick up their responsibilities to keep the business running and be ready for when normal service resumes.
Below, Michael Bentley shares his thoughts on how business owners can begin bridging that gap and ensure the practice is in the best position possible when they reopen…
One of the first things to think about is whether you really know everything your other leaders did? Often, we have a general idea of what colleagues are doing and what their areas of responsibility are. But we’re also busily getting on with our own role, so we don’t necessarily have a detailed idea of all the tasks they carry out.
As an owner, depending on your individual situation, you may need to either manage your staff who are able to do some work from home or take on some of your team’s tasks yourself. So, it’s important to know what those tasks are.
Some things may instantly come to your mind, such as payroll and HR-related tasks like staff probationary periods or induction reviews. When you have a list of these day-to-day tasks, what I call reactive management, you can begin to sift and prioritise them, i.e. payroll cannot be ignored but induction reviews can probably be postponed until you’re all back in the practice.
Preparing your diaries now is one of those tasks that should be prioritised, as it will make it easier for the moment you’re allowed to begin seeing patients again. It will be important to have a system for organising appointments in a logical order.
It will be important to increase the amount of emergency appointments when you reopen, as patients who may have been doing telephone triage with the dentist and who require quite urgent treatment will want to come into the practice as soon as possible.
I would recommend that any dentists doing triage over the phone should write a list of the patients that they are having these kinds of conversations with. This will give you a good idea of how to best plan the diary when you can actually treat them.
It’s worthwhile considering lengthening the times of all appointments in general as undoubtedly patients will want to talk about COVID-19 and the lockdown and in addition, we are yet to fully understand what PPE changes will need to be implemented. By building that extra time in for both of these tasks, it will be less stressful and you can also plan the necessary resource to be able to do this, which is another huge conversation in itself!
Including a zone for patients whose treatment hasn’t been completed yet would also be helpful, however, remember the rules of diary zoning as we knew them are all but ripped up. My advice is be prepared to work differently and be open to changes as it is coming.
Prepare scripts and skills
Now is a good time to begin planning the best approach to talking to patients when they return to the practice post-COVID-19. You can prepare some scripts for emergency patients that the front desk team can be trained in. This means that when a patient who may have already received telephone triage for the emergency contacts you again, they will receive a brilliant service – especially if the dentist has recorded notes about them, so they don’t have to repeat everything again.
For patients that have not called the triage system, or are phoning once you’ve reopened, I would have a set system of questions to go through. From their answers you can prioritise appropriately and allocate them the right amount of time.
I also envisage an opportunity that virtual emergency triage can remain part of diary planning and moving forward, it may become normal that dentists triage and the reception team only book triage appointments, as risk assessment will be required to ascertain the surgery time required.
New patient enquiries
It’s cheering to hear from practices that they are still getting some enquiries from new patients. If you have a treatment coordinator who hasn’t been furloughed there is an opportunity to do virtual free consultations for patients and begin building a relationship ahead of them being able to attend the practice.
Laura Horton and I recorded a webinar for Practice Plan called TCO LIVE to go through all the opportunities for virtual appointments, from online webinars instead of open days, TCO virtual consultations, through to the dentists delivering online option meetings. This is going to become our new normal as we embrace minimising the requirement of face to face appointments.
If you haven’t got your team around you, it might be worthwhile brushing up on some new patient call training – even a quick call to your practice manager could help you to run through what would normally happen.
CQC compliance is something that most practice owners delegate to another leader within the team. If they have been furloughed it would be useful to have a handover conversation with them to find out where they were up to and if anything urgently needs doing.
It would be a good use of time to complete any audits that need doing now, rather than when you begin seeing patients again as all of your time will be devoted to seeing as many as you can.
Stay on top of marketing
At the moment, lots of your patients are likely to be at home, surfing the web and scrolling through social media. So now is a good opportunity to reach those people and keep your profile high.
Your website and social media accounts are your shop window; ensure they look inviting and are up-to-date. Provide helpful advice and information about what is happening at the practice during this time, but also hints and tips on how patients can be looking after their dental health while they can’t come in to see you.
If you’re at the practice, have a walk around and check on the printed marketing materials you give to patients – do you have enough? Are they up-to-date? Do they look good?
And think about the future. Your reopening could be a great celebration and an excellent opportunity to market yourself to new and existing patients, as well as a big injection of enthusiasm and happiness for the team.
Of course, there are a lot of other things to consider as well, more than we have space for here. You can watch a webinar with more information on this topic at Practice Plan’s COVID-19 Resource page.
Michael has an unrivalled passion and enthusiasm for business and team development, and loves nothing more than seeing practice managers become leaders. Having worked as a Practice Manager, Treatment Coordinator and Dental Nurse, Michael has real grass-roots knowledge and experience.
Donna Hall has been a Regional Support Manager at Practice Plan, the UK’s leading provider of practice-branded patient membership plans, for five years. Our team of experienced professionals has supported over 1,500 dental practices to transform the profitability of their business through the combination of a well-populated plan and personalised support including marketing, business advice, events and training. If you’re looking for more from your provider, call 01691 684165 or visit practiceplan.co.uk