How Dental Practices are Recovering from the Pandemic
COVID-19 is having an unprecedented impact on the dental industries in Canada and the United States. Over the past four months, lockdown restrictions, economic downturns, and drastic changes in consumer behavior have forced several dentists to temporarily or permanently close their dental offices. Although restrictions are loosening and cities are reopening, the adverse effects of the pandemic are still being felt by the dental industry.
As we begin the second half of the year, it is important to assess the state of the dental industry and consider the measures we can take to successfully and collectively rebound from the impact of the pandemic. In the past weeks, the Canadian Dental Association and American Dental Association have provided survey data, updates, webinars and social campaigns to inform and guide dentists on important statistics and practices. These resources and data are vital to understanding the state and future of our industry.
This article will explore these data - particularly the recent findings on the state of dental professionals and dental practices and their access to vital resources. You will also learn about active measures you can take as a dentist to ensure your dental practice can survive the impact of the pandemic over the next few months.
What is the current state of dental practices?
In May, as cities entered phase 2 of their reopening, we shared an important article on how to restart your dental practice when COVID-19 restrictions have been removed. If you haven’t read that article, now is a good time to do so. In that article, we outlined active measures you can take to get your dental practice back to a state of normalcy as soon as possible. We acknowledged that it will take flexibility and proactivity to do this. Fortunately, several dentists were proactive with their reopening strategies and over the past two months, we are seeing an increase in the partial or complete reopening of dental practices. This means that, since May, there has been an uptick in terms of patient volume and dental practice employment rate.
While this uptick is encouraging, there is still a lot of work to do for the dental industry to collectively return to normalcy. Situational reports from the Canadian Dental Association American Dental Association suggest that dental professionals and offices in Canada and the United States are still experiencing closures, partial or complete loss of employment, limited access to personal protective equipment (PPE) and low patient volume.
Let’s review these limitations in more details:
As of June 15, 33% of dental practices in the United States were open and conducting business as usual. Most of these practices are run by solo-dentists or a group of two to nine dentists. Only 28% of larger groups (ten or more dentists) reported that they had fully reopened. Amongst dental practices that are not back to normal, 62% were open but experiencing low patient volume.
- Patient Volume
As restrictions loosen, more patients are visiting their dentists for emergency and rescheduled appointments. However, only 45% of dental practices are experiencing patient volume that is above 75% of their pre-Covid19 volume. So far, solo dentists are experiencing the highest increase in patient volume.
- Workforce Pay
On a lighter note, 84% of dental practices reported that their entire staff roster is back at work and getting paid fully. However, only 58% of independent contractors or non-owner dentists are receiving full payment. About 12% of dental practices are making partial payments to their staff. The good news is that more dental professionals are back at work but the bad news is many of them aren’t being paid fully.
- PPE Availability
The availability of PPE in dental practice is very important as practices reopen. The health and wellbeing of patients should be prioritized when strategizing reopening measures. At the moment, only 47% of dental practices are reporting that they have more than two weeks’ worth of PPE. Gowns are said to be the most scarce PPE as up to 8% of dental practices do not have gowns at all.
What does this mean for dental practices?
As cities reopen and residents are becoming more familiar with social distancing measures outside of their homes and in professional buildings - such as their dentist’s office - more people are visiting dental practices and more dental professionals are returning to work. However, the conditions of these dental practices are less than perfect when it comes to their access to PPE and their workers receiving full payments.
That said, there is a certain level of optimism in the recovery rate of dental practices. The data provided by the American Dental Association show that there has been a consistent biweekly increase in the number of practices reopening. History also tells us that the dental industry tends to rebound faster than most industries during a recession or economic downturn. In this recession and pandemic, dental practices are recovering at a decent rate.
Yet, this recovery rate isn’t enough to guarantee high dental care spending this year. In a report by the Health Policy Institute, overall dental care spending is projected to decline by 38% in 2020 and 20% in 2021. This means that, compared to pre-pandemic projections, a lesser number of patients will visit their dental practices or spend money on dental care over the next 18 months. These figures are consistent with the projected recovery rate of the US economy during and after the pandemic.
With the reported low patient volume and projected dental care spending, it is essential for dentists to revisit their financial plan and marketing strategies and ensure they are well prepared for these conditions. We recently shared an article about navigating the recession as a dentist. In that article, we discussed some of the steps dentists can take to optimize their marketing strategies during this time. If you haven’t read that article, we suggest you take a break from this one and go read it.
What can dentists do?
You have read about the data on dental practices that have been reported so far during this pandemic. You are aware of the projections on dental care spending for this year and next year. You may have also read our article on how to navigate the recession as a dentist. The next step is to start taking action based on what you know.
Having access to vital information is so important during this time. Make sure you are connected to reliable sources of COVID-19 and economic updates in your city and in the dental industry. Adhere to all government and health officials’ directives regarding social distancing, masks and other PPEs as well as workplace conditions and restrictions.
If you haven’t joined a dental association in your city, state/province or country, now is a good time to do so and be aware of any updates about dentists and dental practices in your area. If you are part of a dental association, you should make sure you are receiving email updates from your association and your dental practice is listed in the directory on your association’s website. These directories could promote your dental practice to prospective patients.
Depending on where you live, there may be government benefits in place that you or your dental practice could leverage as you work towards recovery. As of June 30, in Canada, dental offices that were not eligible for the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) program because of their TripleGuardTM Insurance Policies are now being reassessed. If this applies to you, you can explore this program to get rent supports for your dental practice. If your dental practice is in the United States, you may be eligible for an SBA Loan Program. These programs could position you and your dental practices to rebound in the post-pandemic recovery.
In July, the Canadian Dental Association launched a campaign to encourage patients and members of the public to take good care of their oral health, visit their dentist and restart their healthcare routines. As a dentist in Canada, you can join this public campaign and use marketing assets provided by the association by liking, sharing and reposting the graphics, images and messaging used in the campaign. You can leverage this campaign to inform current and prospective patients of your reopening times and safety measures.
As you leverage social campaigns, you should also consider tailoring your marketing efforts and automating your marketing tasks wherever possible. In all you do, continue to maintain your commitment to providing value to your patients. Marketing experts at Connect the Doc can work with you to streamline and customize your marketing strategies. We will ensure you have a growing marketing presence as you work towards rebounding from the impacts of the pandemic.
Furthermore, it is important to acknowledge the amount of strain and pressure that comes with the uncertainty of these times. This is a stressful time for everyone. Prioritize your mental health and take care of yourself as much as possible. You can learn more about how to take care of your mental health by using guides provided by the American Dental Association and the Canadian Dental Association.
Contact us at Connect the Doc for more information on how you can continue to take the right steps forward and optimize your marketing strategies in these uncertain times.