Janet Mason looks at what positive lessons can be taken from the recent pandemic to make your business even stronger…
COVID-19 has been a huge cloud hanging over dentistry, and the country, ever since March. You cannot doubt the negative impact it has had on many lives, both professionally and personally speaking.
One way to remain resilient and focused, and simply get through these hard times, is to focus on the positives – even if they sometimes feel outnumbered by the negatives. COVID-19 will probably be one of the biggest tests your practice will ever face; while it has been tremendously hard, it has also offered new opportunities to find new ways of doing things that could mean that you don’t just survive this period but actually find a way to thrive.
Below are five lessons you can learn from COVID-19 that might just make your practice an even better place to work and be a patient…
The importance of communication
As dentists, doubtless you already knew how important it was to communicate well with your patients, whether new or existing, as it’s one of the building blocks to establishing rapport.
Immediately after the country entered lockdown, and in the interceding months, it became apparent just how much good communication mattered. Just think about how much you valued it from the organisations and providers you work with. Your patients likely feel the same about you.
Taking a proactive approach to communicating with your patients – especially during a time that many found extremely challenging – was vital to maintaining and building your relationships with them. And it still is.
Communication may well have come to the forefront during lockdown when you weren’t busy in the surgery delivering treatment. Now you’re open, treating patients, clearing backlogs and dealing with new patient enquiries, it’s easy to see how this could drop down the priority list.
And that’s understandable. Managing through COVID-19 has meant dealing with constant changes, and your priorities have needed to adapt alongside this. However, it is worth remembering how appreciative patients were of the way you communicated with them, and use what worked well during this time to ensure they remain happy and loyal patients
Show patients your human side
Perhaps because of the sense of togetherness or community that was fostered during lockdown, cheesy as it sounds, many professionals found themselves opening up and revealing a little bit more about themselves as a person.
Often, without anything concrete to share about reopening and without any available appointments to offer, practices were simply talking about what their team members were doing during lockdown. Despite not necessarily being of any ‘use’ to patients, this kind of communication – usually shared on social media – really resonated with patients, probably because they were doing similar things in their spare time.
Showing the more human side of the members of your team can help to establish a more personal connection between patients and your practice. Even now that you’re back open and have lots of useful posts to share such as oral health advice, treatment availability, etc, you can still weave in posts that share your human side so patients see you as more than just a clinician wearing PPE, and continue strengthening those bonds.
Have a well-populated membership plan
Many people probably expected lots of patients on a membership plan to cancel it once the country went into lockdown, as they were unable to receive treatment. However, that did not happen.
Overall, 98% of Practice Plan patients continued paying their fee and remained a member of their practice. This meant that practices with a plan had a level of financial security that those without may not have had, and the more members on the plan, the less vulnerable they felt.
From this, it is not only clear just how much membership patients value their plan and practice, but also how a well-populated plan can protect your business. There’s no way of knowing what the future holds for dentistry, the country or your individual practice, but growing a strong membership base can be an effective way of protecting your business against possible future hardships.
Patients are ready to go virtual
There has been a lot of talk for a long time about the rise of digital dentistry, however one of the more positive impacts of lockdown is that it accelerated the number of practices embracing technology that supports things like virtual consultations.
Many practices found that patients were more than happy to attend appointments remotely. Given that so many of us are used to doing so many other things online, it wasn’t such a big leap for patients to adjust to having an appointment online before they were able to attend the practice.
They have proved to be so popular and convenient for patients, and effective as a way of ensuring those who do then attend in-person are committed to treatment, that many practices are continuing to offer them even after restrictions have lifted.
Your own mental health is a priority
The high rates of poor mental health within dentistry have been in the spotlight for a number of years. Undoubtedly, the challenges thrown up by COVID-19 will have exacerbated existing mental health problems or triggered new issues for some people.
The past few months have been a period of significant change for dentists and their teams. It placed many people in a position of financial vulnerability and left lots of business owners feeling as though they weren’t in control of the running of their practice. Add to that the personal challenges people were going through such as home schooling, worrying about your own or others’ health, caring for dependents, etc, and it’s easy to see how COVID-19 will have negatively impacted some people’s mental health.
We can only hope that things will continue to get easier as we keep recovering from lockdown and the pandemic. However, even as the business of normal life returns, it will still be key to prioritise your own self-care and protect your mental health.
COVID-19 has been a tough road with a lot of big bumps. At times like these it’s important to take whatever positives we can from the situation, learn the lessons and use it to create an even better life on the other side.
Janet Mason has been a Regional Support Manager at Practice Plan, the UK’s leading provider of practice-branded patient membership plans, for three years and has 14 years’ experience in the dental industry. 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. For more information, call 01691 684165 or visit practiceplan.co.uk.