Navigating the Coronavirus Crisis

June 12, 2020

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The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a lot of curveballs at businesses across nearly every industry, and dentists are no exception. Shelter in place orders and subsequent guidance from state health officials forced dentists to adapt and pivot quickly. As restrictions put in place flatten the curve of the pandemic begin to lift and dentists are able to reopen their offices to routine patient care, there are a lot of considerations and steps being taken to ensure the safety of patients and staff.

CDS member Dr. Eric Jackson reflects on how he kept his team’s spirits up during the time his office was closed, prioritized proactive communications, and offers a look at the steps he and his team have taken to maintain a safe and healthy patient experience.

How did you communicate and keep in touch with your staff while your office was closed?

After the initial shutdown and through the end of March, I communicated once or twice a week via email to make sure the staff was informed about pertinent information and decisions, both dentistry-related as well as financial and small business-related topics. When the shutdown was extended into April, I elected to back off direct communication to allow everyone some space to further acclimate, since the shutdown would be for much longer than initially planned. I did continue daily updates on all my social media accounts and continued to produce new YouTube videos during this time. These allowed passive communication with not only staff, but the public as well. When we found out we would be able to return to work in early May, we resumed active communication. We used periodic emails, held an all-staff Zoom meeting, and also held an all-staff meeting at the office so we could practice implementation of our new materials and methods prior to our first day back with patients.

Is there anything unique you did to keep morale up during the closures?

We didn’t hold any virtual “team building” exercises or events, but each office team is different. I felt that open and regular communication with staff about how hard my office manager and I were working to navigate the rough waters would be more appreciated by the staff. During the shutdown, she and I spent a significant amount of time every week keeping up with the latest information and staying abreast of the ever-changing landscape. Communicating pertinent details of this effort to the staff kept morale high because they knew we were working hard and doing everything possible to protect our staff and patients once we reopened.

What steps did you take to prepare to reopen your office?

My office manager and I compiled most of our efforts and decisions during the shutdown into a “Return to Work” document for the staff. We gathered information from a litany of sources to create it. Naturally, we relied heavily on organizations like the Center for Disease Control, the American Dental Association and the Illinois Department of Public Health, but also incorporated great ideas sourced from colleagues as well. As our re-opening plan took shape, we shared it with our staff and patients both directly via Zoom calls, meeting, and emails as well as indirectly via YouTube and our social media channels.

How have you enhanced your safety protocols and procedures in the office in response to COVID-19?

The long shutdown allowed us to examine and update many aspects of the office to accommodate the threats posed by COVID-19. Our patient’s experience will be slightly different than before the pandemic, but they’ll find comfort and confidence that it is quite obviously rooted in the past 40 years of quality dental care delivered by our office. As an industry, we have a long history of being on the front lines of preventing the spread of infectious diseases, and closely following the guidelines of public health organizations is part of our everyday routine. Implementation of an automobile waiting room, a patient staging area, wireless communication devices, updated Personal Protective Equipment, improved suction, HEPA filters and UV light technology are just a few of the most prominent modifications.

What was your experience securing the appropriate PPE for your office?

Like everyone else in our field, it was, and still is, challenging. I am very grateful for all my colleagues, connections, and friends because it was through these relationships that we were able to source PPE.

What types of questions have you received from patients about returning to the dental office?

We are extremely blessed to have such wonderful and supportive patients. During the shutdown, we regularly received well-wishes from patients who realized what a predicament dental practices were in. Our open and frequent methods of communication with our patient population kept them well-informed as to exactly how their dental home was navigating the pandemic. Because of this, there have been very few questions revolving around anxiety or reluctance to return for dental care. Overwhelmingly, the #1 question has been “Will you be adding extra dental hygiene hours so I can get in for the cleaning I missed during the shutdown.” We are very fortunate and blessed.

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