Communication and staying connected to both our team and our patients have been absolutely vital during this period of extreme flux.
Our practice team already had a WhatsApp group set up, which is mainly for silly chats and to be sociable, which we kept going during this time.
After COVID-19 broke out I also set up a closed Facebook group and organised Zoom meetings, so that the team could be updated on what was happening in the world of dentistry and in the business. We also talk about the future and the steps to reopening.
Of course not everyone wants to speak up in a group setting so I’ve also made it clear that anyone in the team can speak to me privately if they want/need and my clinical manager is in contact with the team on a daily basis to make sure their mental health is okay at this time as well.
Staying connected to patients
When it comes to patients, we’ve been sending newsletters out once a month to keep in contact. We’re also trying to help out patients who are struggling where we can as well, for example picking up their medication if they can’t get out to the pharmacy themselves.
Social media has also been part of our communication. We shared a post about one of our furloughed members of staff helping out in the community, which shows our human, caring side and we had a frenzy of likes and comments.
Cancelling and postponing appointments
Like other practices we’ve had to cancel and postpone patients’ appointments. Those without a plan have been cancelled and we will reschedule them when we are back up and running.
For plan patients, we are rescheduling their appointments to July, as a benefit of being on the plan and being loyal to us. Although we obviously don’t know what will happen in terms of when we will be allowed to reopen, so we may have to reschedule them again.
When we talk to plan patients, we’re explaining to them that they will still receive the service they are paying for. While they can’t see us right now, they will still receive their two examinations and two hygiene appointments, it just might be over four months rather than six.
And the vast majority, around 98%, are agreeing and understanding. I think the only people who have suspended their plans has been as a result of their financial situation changing.
I think patients understand that this is something that is beyond our control and that is happening to the whole world.
Dentistry after reopening
When we are able to reopen and begin seeing patients, it’s probably not going to be in the same way as it was a few months ago.
We will probably have to have less patients in the practice, ask the patients to fill their forms in at home to start with, or in the car, ask them to wait in the car outside, have a hygiene station when they come in for washing their hands, etc.
We’re going to be spending a lot longer on an examination. It will probably take around 30 minutes for an exam and 40 minutes for a hygiene appointment, so that we can clean everything down properly afterwards.
I think it will be 18 months to two years before we get back to doing what we were doing before March 2020.
Even if we can do any aerosol generating procedures, I think we will need to have the PPE for it, which I know a lot of practices are trying to source at the moment.
The issue is that we don’t need it right now and my moral, rather than business stance, is that I would prefer all the free PPE to actually go to the NHS for those people that are on the front line treating COVID positive patients, rather than me having a stockpile at my practice at the moment.
I have a downstairs surgery that we will be able to use for our vulnerable patients, so they can fill in their forms before they arrive, wait in their car when they get here, call us and we will get them from the car and take them into that surgery, so there’s no time spent in the waiting room.
Zoning the appointment book
We’ll be prioritising patients who are attending for health reasons. So, rather than doing the composite bonding, we are going to be seeing patients that need a root filling to get them out of pain first.
To organise that prioritisation system, we’ll be zoning the appointment book. I’ve been thinking about doing it for years and never got around to it, but now is the perfect opportunity to actually put it into practise.
It will also be important to see new patients and have a zone for them, particularly if they are new patients who are in pain. I have been receiving a lot of phone calls from non-registered patients that I can’t give any particular advice to, apart from painkillers, because I’ve never seen them before and I have to send them to the community. I think it’s important to have a zone for those patients as well.
Zoe Wray is the principal dentist and practice owner of Diana Dental in Stoke-on-Trent.
Zoe qualified in 1996 from the University of Birmingham with honours and a clinical distinction. Zoe bought her first practice in 2006 when her second child Matthew was 5 months old, this was also the beginning of her career in private dentistry. Having trained early on in her career in Oral surgery she decided to concentrate on developing her skills in implant dentistry undertaking many postgraduate courses.
During the last 10 years Zoe has lectured for the West Midlands deanery, at Association of Dental Implantology (ADI) study clubs, at an Association of Dental Implantology (ADI) congress in Glasgow, regular trains dental nurses to assist in dental implantology and is teaching dentist practical Implantology as well as mentoring and examining dentists. Zoe has also had a couple of case studies published in dental magazines on the advanced techniques that she uses including All On 4 and digital dentistry.