The straight and narrow – staying in control

straight and narrow COVID-19As we enter the final quarter of 2020, Emma Laing explains how she is taking control of her business model and remaining optimistic about the future.

It’s that week of the year where the clocks change, children are on half term, we carve pumpkins, the nights draw in and we start seeing fireworks.

Late autumn walks with crunchy leaves to kick about and the odd ray of sunshine boost our spirits. Feelings of festive optimism are not far away.

But this year certainly has a different feel. And with all the changes it is definitely taking its toll on everyone.

Mental health issues

In the last few weeks I am noticing many more mental health discussions with both patients, and friends and family.

Some have been shielding for months for medical reasons. For others the incessant worry of COVID-19 has enforced them to isolate out of anxiety.

As London entered the next tier, I watched the news avidly for a week then regretted this. Whilst it’s important to stay informed, the hype is overwhelming and seems increasingly politicised.

And at what cost to our patients, and our families?

Anxiety levels

One of my patients, who is in her early 20s and medically well, was following the news in great detail recently – leading to her becoming so concerned that she continued her own lockdown even though she did not specifically need to. She was not even sure whether to come to her appointment.

We spoke on the phone the day before at length, followed by emails. The positive thing from my perspective was that of all the places she could go to, she only felt safest coming to the dentist. She was aware of the precautions we are taking.

In the end she had a car (that had been disinfected that morning at her insistence, bring her to the practice door and wait outside. She wore a surgical mask and gloves, and we gave her new masks and gloves to wear out to the car after her appointment.

As per our SOP, she didn’t encounter other patients and left immediately when I was done.

I reflected on this specific event as this patient is young and well. Yet hugely anxious about what she has heard in the news. To the extent that she has been virtually housebound for months.

It really hit home that anxiety, lack of confidence and depression are going to be such huge issues by the time the COVID storm passes through.

Loss of control

With many colleagues reading this experiencing tier three, and others like myself in lower tiers, we are all wondering what is in store for our families and our workplace. At least until spring is here.

By the nature of our job and how we run to a tight schedule, most dental clinicians would say one of their traits is that they need to feel in control.

COVID has taken away that control and we have no say over the future. Consequently, it is impossible to predict how our next quarter will take shape and the knock-on financial impact.

On the one hand I have clients saving up and waiting to come in and the diary fills up quickly. On the other I have clients, like the aforementioned lady, who say they don’t want their next brace check for at least three to four months. All so they don’t have to risk leaving the house.

Trying to forecast a business model in this climate is so uncertain it’s unsettling. And the lack of our usual control is evident.

Each year the closing two months for me are always super busy. Clients are keen to complete their treatment or start a new one.

But this year I cannot predict anything and will have to wait and see. We might experience enforced restrictions in how we work, patients or staff absences, or simply reticence of patients attending.

I have resolved myself to stop forecasting and instead accept a few weeks at a time as small goals to aim for and achieve; for me, this seems the best way to regain a little control and be kinder on my own mental health.

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