August 18, 2020
The numbers are stunning. Tens of thousands of dental practices are currently closed. Hundreds of thousands of team members aren’t working, including many who have been temporarily laid off. And tens of millions of patients are going without needed treatment.
But what can you do?
In September 2018, Hurricane Florence struck the southeastern United States, reaching peak intensity on September 11th with maximum sustained winds of 150 mph. Even though Florence made landfall as a weakened Category 1 hurricane, her winds were still strong enough to uproot trees and power lines, causing significant power outages in the Carolinas. Additionally, because the storm was a slow-moving one, the accompanying rainfall brought heavy flooding. In one city alone, Elizabethtown, North Carolina, over 35 inches of rain was recorded. Power was cut off to millions of residents for days and even weeks. 54 lives were lost.
CarolinasDentist, a seven-location group practice headquartered in Fayetteville, North Carolina, was among the countless businesses impacted by Florence. Although none of their practices were destroyed, they were all impacted in some way, including several that lost power. This meant no dentistry was being provided to patients. According to Josey Sewell, VP of Education at Dental Intelligence and former COO at CarolinasDentist, Hurricane Florence was very disruptive. “We took a huge financial hit immediately following Florence,” Josey recalled. “Even one week without revenue meant we wouldn’t be able to cover our payroll. We scrambled to figure out creative ways to stay connected to our patients and to assist them in receiving needed treatment. Because of these efforts, in the month following Hurricane Florence, we actually experienced our best month ever in the history of CarolinasDentist.”
How is this even possible? What did this practice do during a complete shutdown that allowed them to bounce back with a record month after reopening? Although every dental practice is unique, there are several principles employed here that you can also follow to experience similar results. During this COVID-19 pandemic and resulting shut-down, you have a unique opportunity to prepare for the first days, weeks, and months when your doors re-open and your patients return. Now is the time to take creative action so your post-pandemic practice will see its own record month.
Once CarolinasDentist was operational again, they talked about what their patients might need as they recovered from the hurricane. Many were still without electricity and running water. The CD team discussed how they could help and came up with a fun idea to assist these patients suffering from “cabin fever.” They reached out to all of their affected patients and promoted their air-conditioned offices, bottled water, and comfortable waiting areas, even offering to watch a patient’s children while they had a cleaning done.
Josey and her team used Dental Intelligence’s Patient Finder to create custom “to be called” lists for each of their locations. For example, all the patients under the age of eighteen due for hygiene treatment with remaining insurance balances. Each practice would then assign team members to call these lists and schedule these patients. Although you can’t see your patients at the moment, you can schedule them for future appointments. Using a solution like Dental Intel’s Patient Finder enables you to identify exactly which patients need to be seen according to the parameters you enter. In just seconds you can see a customized list of patients and begin contacting them.
Josey used the analogy of inviting someone over to your house for dinner to describe the model CarolinasDentist was using to engage with their patients. “If we can make sure and recapture the patients and get them back in, it’s like we're just going to eat dinner with them later,” she said. “We won't lose that relationship if we take creative steps now to communicate with them. Using the creativity on your team is also such a great way to keep them engaged. Team members are feeling stressed and worried at the moment. Giving them the chance to use their talents and abilities to help your patients is a great ‘two-for-one’ way to care for your patients and your team members.”
Although now might not be the right time to reach out to patients with overdue balances, there is still opportunity during this downtime to improve your bottom line. As Josey put it, “Sending a bill for $2,000 to your patient who just got laid off from work is not the right approach. One of the solutions Dental Intelligence offers is their Collections Board, which includes a metric that measures insurance claims aging. This allows you to easily see which insurance companies haven’t paid their share of a claim so you can make a follow-up call to them to get that taken care of.”
Again, this is another great high-value activity that different team members could be assigned to do. Thinking beyond the immediate crisis and not focusing on just reopening your doors, but on having a “best-ever” month is the goal here. Working all of your insurance claims so you can stay afloat is a wise practice behavior that anyone can do.
How many of your patients know what your practice is offering right now? Are you providing emergency dental care? Do your patients know what that means? When can they come in for treatment? Are you keeping your social media channels updated with the latest information about your practice? How about your phone system? Have you updated your after-hours message? Perhaps most importantly, take a look at your website and make sure everything is current.
If you aren’t yet a LocalMed customer, this might be the perfect moment to see if that solution would work for you. LocalMed is the only real-time online appointment scheduling tool that patients can use to find time on your schedule for treatment. It’s a powerful tool that eliminates the requirement for a patient to call or email your practice to find openings. Now more than ever, this is a solution that was made for the connected world we all live in.
For CarolinasDentist, a big concern they had was the number of cancellations that were piling up during the days and weeks their practices were offline. It might have been easy to think that simply adding new patients would’ve been a quicker, easier solution to fill the schedule versus trying to reengage with existing patients. “We chose not to give in to that temptation,” Josey said. “Instead, we began using Dental Intel’s Patient Finder to build custom lists of the types of patients and types of treatment we wanted back on the schedule from our existing patients. There will probably be an initial decrease in some cosmetic cases, while at the same there should be an increase in elective treatment. The Patient Finder lets you quickly and easily see the type of dentistry you want to provide. Whether it’s overdue crowns, prophies, a certain amount of insurance remaining, etc. This was how we had our best month ever once we were back in business.”
To learn what you can do right now to prepare for that first day back, visit us at dentalintel.com and take advantage of the many no-cost resources we’re currently offering to help you prepare for that first day back in the office. You can also sign up for free daily CE courses being offered at intelligentdentistry.com - including our upcoming COVID-19 Conference.
This isn’t down time. This is “get ready to rock” time. Regardless of whether you have or will be impacted by a hurricane, a virus, or whatever future natural or man-made calamities might yet occur, you can make the most of the moment and come out stronger than ever. We’re here to help you every step of the way.
To learn how Dental Intelligence is helping dental practices bounce back from COVID-19, visit us at dentalintel.com
You can also register to attend one of our free, daily webinars and earn CE while discovering ways you can prepare for the day when you begin caring for patients again. Visit us at intelligentdentistry.com for more info.
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