10 steps back to practice after COVID-19 – encouraging patients back
As dental practices face a ‘new normal’, Laura Horton discovers new ways to help encourage patients back to dentistry.
Post COVID-19 lockdown means that dental practices are facing a ‘new normal’. It’s a term that we now use a lot. It is definitely something that we’re going have to get used to. At least for the time being.
Of course, this new normal involves different protocols for many things. Such as cleaning and PPE to ensure patient and staff safety. But while this naturally has to take a precedent, it is also important to think about how to effectively encourage patients to want to come back. While many people are desperate for the lockdown to lift so that life can get back on track, some will be fearful of certain things, and rightly so.
With this in mind, it is vital that dental practices are sending out the right messages to patients to ensure they feel safe to come and trust the processes put in place. Knowing how to communicate and the methods to use is key. We know that the use of social media has never been bigger. This makes these platforms great tools for you to encourage patients to feel safe coming back to you.
The first message to communicate is which treatments you are actually open for. You can do this through your social media platforms and via email. I would also advise phoning patients who you know from your triage records are in dental pain. Let them know the practice is open for treatment. They will welcome this phone call.
I would also recommend putting together some videos to show patients what to expect when they visit you. Not only will this help things to run smoothly and safely for your team, it will allow patients to prepare for your new normal. Ensure your tone is warm, friendly and reassuring. Let people know they can contact you via email and social media and expect a quick response (you must act on this!). You can post these videos on your website and on social media too.
Communicating with patients virtually
You and your team need to be able to communicate effectively via virtual channels. I believe the role of the virtual communicator will begin to define itself as a key component within the dental practice. This is something you should begin to consider now. Limiting face-to-face contact where necessary is not only vital in the fight against COVID-19, but we have also seen how much more efficient we can be by implementing virtual channels more often.
I highly advise setting up virtual consultations if you haven’t done so already. These need to be professional and on brand. So, whoever is conducting the call should dress smartly. If they’re not in the practice, use a branded or neutral backdrop. Use a pull up banner at home if possible. This helps to maintain your brand integrity at all times. It extends through to how the virtual communicator conducts themselves through body language and tone of voice. These are all elements that must be in place for effective virtual communication. You can use this system for many facets of your business including, but not limited to:
- Medical history
- Treatment consent
- Communicating the new process for attending the practice
- Triaging to assess whether the patient requires emergency treatment
- Consultations for future treatment such as orthodontics or cosmetic dentistry.
Implement virtual communication to reduce the amount of time a patient is in the practice. You can carry out medical history and treatment consent using alternative means as part of your new health and safety protocol.
New cleaning protocols require working additional time into your diary between patients. It is recognised that one hour of fallow time should be allowed. This means the team can carry out a full deep clean of the surgery, waiting areas and any other communal parts that the patient may have entered, such as hallways.
Naturally, your diary needs to look different. For now, physical appointment times should only be for emergency and urgent treatment. No face-to-face consultations or non-essential treatment (such as cosmetic work) should occur.
With limited appointment availability it should be fairly straightforward to fill the diary. However, clinical practitioners could use the fallow time to conduct virtual consultations or triage. As long as other members of the team can manage the cleaning effectively. This would be a wise use of your clinician’s time. It will avoid having to carry out virtual consults late into the evening.
You will have been, and continue to be, triaging patients. So you will have a record of those who require urgent care. They will be grateful for you contacting them to let them know you can get them out of pain now!
Outstanding customer service is always vital. This will consequently help you to encourage your patients to come back and to trust you with their care. You can provide a ‘wow’ service even under this new normal by using virtual channels more often. In a world where everything can be purchased instantly, your patients will welcome the use of technology to allow them to access their dental care quickly, safely, and efficiently.