Dental professionals everywhere are anticipating the day they can re-open their practice for more than emergency care. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ADA currently recommends practices continue to provide only urgent or emergency care until April 30 and urges them to stay up to date on relevant state and local guidelines. And as some areas across the U.S. consider gradually re-opening certain businesses, it’s important for dental professionals to have a plan in place for how they’ll manage patient care amidst a call for heightened safety measures to continue to mitigate the spread of the virus.
Opening a practice after an extended closure or major reduction in appointments requires careful planning. Following proper infection control procedures and manufacturer instructions for re-starting equipment, bringing back staff that may have been furloughed and communicating changes to patients are all needed for a successful re-opening.
But the most critical component to consider when re-opening your practice is how to keep patients and staff safe.
As offices re-open there will still be a responsibility to adhere to social distancing guidelines and other recommendations for slowing the spread of COVID-19. This means that there will be a “new normal” in dental care—at least for the foreseeable future—and dental practices will have to adapt to these new expectations.
A way to do this is with a gradual re-opening that takes into account best practices laid out by local, state, and national recommendations.
To help frame your gradual re-opening, we’re sharing 10 helpful points from Smile Perfected that will make the process a little simpler.
- Communicate early & often with patients about changes to appointment protocol and steps your practice is taking to keep them safe
- Update your website, send an email, post to your Facebook page, send a postcard, etc.
- Communicate changes during appointment confirmation calls
- Emphasize all changes are done to keep them safe and healthy
- Stagger appointments and patients
- Limit the number of patients in the office at one time and stagger the start times of appointments so patients don’t cross paths
- Add 20-30 minutes after appointments to sterilize the operatory and other areas the patient comes in contact with before you allow the next patient to enter
- Modify appointment confirmation call to prepare patients
- Call every patient before their appointment and during the call explain new in-office procedures (check-in process, sanitation procedures, staff PPE requirements, etc.) so they are prepared and can feel safe coming to their appointment
- Pre-screen patients by asking three questions:
- Have you recently had a fever or other symptoms of illness?
- Have you recently traveled outside the country?
- Have you recently traveled to any “hot spots” within the U.S.?
- Explain why you’re pre-screening (patient and staff safety) and that if they answer yes to any question you’ll need to reschedule their appointment
- Modify patient check-in process (no in-office check-ins)
- Close your reception area to patients and have a sign on your entry door alerting patients that they must wait in their car for check-in (include your phone number so they can call with questions)
- Have patients wait in their vehicle and call them to let them know they can enter the office
- Utilize e-forms when possible or have patients fill out any necessary paperwork in their vehicle
- Provide hand sanitizer for the patient upon entering the office and then take the patient directly to the sanitized operatory
- Restrict office entry to essential people only
- For most appointments, only the person receiving care will be allowed into the office
- For pediatric patients or other patients who need assistance, one parent or caregiver may attend an appointment with them
- Remove all non-essential items from the office
- Magazines, brochures, display models, samples, and any other items not necessary for providing patient care should be put away
- This reduces the number of surfaces that can be touched and the chance that germs are spread with reduced cleaning as well
- Be proactive with dental supply deliveries
- Post a sign on your front door that you are open but will take delivers outside (include a contact phone number if someone won’t always be readily available for deliveries)
- After signing for and taking the delivery, sanitize the packages and leave them outside for a few minutes before bringing them inside
- Wash or sanitize hands immediately after the delivery is complete before resuming other tasks
- Contain/reduce aerosol spray
- Have one person dedicated to “environmental hygiene” as their main job responsibility to be done multiple times a day
- Sanitize all common areas (door handles, countertops, restrooms)
- Sanitize all exam rooms between patients
- Sanitize any other areas of concern
- A roaming assistant would be a good candidate for this responsibility so they can continually sanitize as needed
- Use a non-contact thermometer to take the temperature of patients & staff
- This adds a further layer of protection to help ensure practice safety
- Not a medical diagnostic tool—simply another way to exercise caution
- Explain the procedure to patients and why you are doing it
Each of the points listed above helps create an actionable strategy for safely welcoming more patients to your practice. This builds trust with both patients and team members that your practice is a safe place to enter. Without this trust patients may be wary of visiting your office, making a successful re-opening more difficult.
Remember: this is new to everyone—both patients and dental professionals—and a gradual start as you perfect your new routines will help you have success.
Every practice is a bit different. And as the state and local COVID-19 situation varies so will practices’ re-opening strategies. Use these 10 points as a guide to assist you in planning your gradual re-opening when the time is right and you can do so safely.
As a final tool, we’re sharing a downloadable example of how these 10 points could be applied to your practice. Review this with your team as you begin planning for your re-opening.