Coming Out Of The COVID-19 Pandemic

Steps your dental practice should take to recover

Updated on May 13, 2020

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Dentists across the US are breathing a sigh of relief now that restrictions on their businesses are being lifted. As of May 13, 39 states have reopened for elective procedures.

While this is good news for the livelihood of practice owners and their teams, it will take time, careful planning, and careful execution for practices to recoup losses and return to pre-virus levels. In April, the Health Policy Institute reported that 79% of practices were seeing emergency patients, 18% of offices were closed altogether, and 3% remained opened at a reduced patient volume.

“COVID-19 is likely to have a long-lasting, multi-year impact on the dental care economy,” concludes the report.

But this is an unprecedented, fluid situation. And the authors of this report, titled COVID-19’s Impact On The Dental Sector, admit their analysis is “subject to major uncertainty at this stage.”

While this information may be unsettling, it doesn’t mean your practice is destined for trouble. The dental industry is resilient. One year after the global recession in 2009, doctors’ gross productions rose by 12%, collections went up 8%, and patient visits increased by 7%.

And the industry’s top consultants agree that recovery and growth are possible.

Yes, many patients will be apprehensive at first due to fear and concerns about health and safety. But dental offices that maintain effective communication with their patients can overcome patient trepidation and build loyalty in the process. Another comeback essential is an airtight recovery plan. To make one, it’s imperative to have accurate practice data and use it to determine how to market within your budget.

The patient journey is also a crucial element. Dentists who pay attention to it and how it impacts their business will be able to enhance their relationships with patients, making it easier to get those patients back in the dental chair.

How To Manage The Patient Journey Right Now

The patient journey is made up of the specific stages each person experiences as a potential patient and as your patient of record.

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Pre-COVID-19, you likely put equal focus and effort on new-patient acquisition and on retention. However, during the shutdown period, you prioritized your patients-of-record and staying connected to them. That’s part of the fourth stage of the journey (patient experience). This is everything that happens before and after seeing patients in the office. It’s all the value-added service you provide.

Through website updates, social media posts, informative newsletters, and electronic communication, you’ve remained by their side. You’ve made your practice accessible – from a distance – and shown a genuine interest in their wellbeing during this challenging time. It’s this kind of relationship-building that will help you overcome perceived indifference – the top reason patients stop going to a dentist, “quits” a practice, and moves over to a competitor.

As a result of this pandemic, a new patient persona is expected to emerge. Since many people are unemployed and without benefits, they’ll...

  • want to keep a tight grip on their wallets
  • take time to catch up on what they’ve been missing because of social distancing
  • avoid taking unnecessary risks
  • be more informed than ever about health & safety measures in a clinical setting.

If you want current and new patients to feel comfortable about going to your practice, it’s critical to continue to send out reassuring messages. Let patients know everything will be okay, your practice is one of the safest environments around, your team is well prepared, and you’ll continue to provide exceptional care for them, their families, and their community.

Here are 4 tips on how to keep your practice’s name in the forefront:

  1. Send a helpful, informative newsletter to your patients of record. In a time when email inboxes are overflowing and false information is everywhere, this is how you’ll reach 100% of patients – while they are at home. It’s the best way to let them know about the emergency services you’ve offered throughout the pandemic and how you keep everyone safe, as well as provide information on what they can do at this time to stay healthy. This will show patients you care about their wellbeing, and as a result, you will build their trust and earn their loyalty, which is necessary now more than ever. You will also maintain your position as the credible authority in your community.
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  1. Show your “true self” on social media. Since most of the world is spending more time on their devices and social media, engaging on Facebook and Instagram is an easy way to keep patients connected to your practice and maintain brand equity. You can use these platforms to:
  • share updates on what’s happening at your office (and at home)
  • post encouraging messages from you and your team (video is best)
  • provide hygiene tips
  • make patients smile with funny or entertaining content with which they connect
  • reshare content from other reliable sources (e.g., WHO, CDC, ADA, etc.).
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You can also encourage real-time conversations with patients through the Facebook Messenger app. If you’re going to do this, assign someone to respond promptly to messages.

  1. Email your patients weekly. There’s no such thing as overcommunication right now. When it comes to email, the average open rate amongst health care professionals is about 13%. That’s 130 opens for every 1,000 active patients. Let your patients know what your office is doing to keep them safe, announce your reopening date, share details on your check-in/check-out procedures, etc. Be friendly, empathetic, and take a leadership role – be that person your patients rely on for solid information and guidance.
  1. Update your website to assist patients. When someone arrives at your website, is information about how your practice is handling the pandemic front and center? Have you announced your reopening date? What about infection control procedures? Put these updates where they are easy to find. Consider a website popup for time-sensitive information. It’s also an excellent time to look at the messaging on your site and ensure it addresses the needs of current and prospective patients. Also, review your SEO strategy and update your Google My Business page with accurate office hours. This information will appear in your business profile on Google Search and Maps.
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Important: If you’re looking at cutting costs, don’t pull the plug on your website. Grant Gooley, Director of Digital Operations, explains why this is a mistake. “To stop would mean the loss of two critical elements: your SEO authority that has been worked on and steadily increasing and benefiting your practice since the start of the campaign and online visibility during a time when communication is critical.”

Areas Of Your Business To Focus On Before You Reopen

Before you reopen and things really ramp up, take time to look at your practice data and evaluate how your practice was performing pre-pandemic to now and make necessary operational changes to speed up recovery time. A practice intelligence tool like Practice ZEBRATM helps make that easy.

Here’s a checklist of 3 action items to complete to increase your success:

  1. Update patient records. Data from Practice ZEBRA reveals that nearly 40% of guarantor emails are missing. You want to make sure you have the correct email addresses and phone numbers to ensure meaningful communication reaches everyone. You can find out who these patients are and reach out to update their records.

    When a member of your team calls them, they must ensure they’re unrushed, friendly, and express genuine concern for how the patient is doing. A personal call to check in and confirm and collect current contact information will go a long way toward cementing patient loyalty.
  1. Identify and schedule the right patients. While you are rescheduling patients who missed appointments during closure, target non-scheduled patients and call them too. Before calling, check and compare outstanding treatment plans to be sure you focus on, and get, high-production opportunities back in first. Be sure to leave space for new patients and market to attract them. 

    Your steady flow of that high-value production was cut off due to closure, and to get back to pre-pandemic production levels, these patients will be critical. In their first year, the average new patient is worth 2-3 times the value of an existing patient – and after several weeks and months without new-patient activity, that production is lost from this fiscal year. By welcoming new patients, you will boost the speed of your recovery.
  1. Look at phone call data and provide training. Top practices answer 90% of inbound calls live and convert almost 80% to appointments. How did your practice do in the months leading up to the crisis? Since the front desk is most often the first point of interaction, whoever answers the phone needs to be genuine, answer questions effectively, and have exceptional customer service skills.

    If you have new patients asking about emergency appointments, how your team talks to them now could determine whether they become a long-term patient or not. Listen to call recordings to get a better sense of how frontline staff are handling these inquiries. If you notice a low conversion rate (under the industry average of 60%), this is the perfect time to provide your team phone call training and scripts for booking and filling the schedule.
“It’s literally like taking an x-ray of your marketing campaign,” says Dr. Michael Rodriguez, a client who uses Practice ZEBRA. “You’re able to see everything.”

Preparing For A Comeback

  1. Launch an appointment booking blitz. If you’re closed to non-urgent care for 4-6 weeks, you will have to increase production by 15-20% over 16-20 weeks to make up the difference.

    As mentioned earlier, a vital aspect of the recovery process is scheduling priority patients. Once you have a list of who they are, start making calls. Dr. Carlo Biasucci, a consultant who works with Patient News, advises working the phones intensively two weeks before opening.

    If you can improve the following five metrics by just 10%, you could double your annual revenue this year:
      • live call answer rate
      • appointment scheduling rate
      • attendance rate
      • case acceptance rate
      • average patient spend.
  1. Restart paid media campaigns. During the pandemic, most dental practices that ran paid media campaigns focused on emergency care. Once you reopen, your campaigns should shift to underline how safe your practice is, highlight extended hours, mention your dental membership plan, and offer special payment arrangements (if applicable).

    Discerning patients will consider all these factors when choosing a dentist. Let them know what you have to offer and how it will benefit them. This content will get patients to click on your ad and learn more. Paid media campaigns are also an effective way to boost your online ranking.
  1. Reach out to new patients with direct mail. Many dental practices cut back on marketing budgets during the crisis. At this point, you’ve watched dozens of webinars, cut costs, and maintained a strong balance sheet. Your great team is trained and ready to go – your practice is ready. Now is your opportunity to gain significant marketshare while other practices focus solely on rescheduling active patients.

    Direct mail will reach 100% of households, it’s still one of the most trusted forms of communication. And for a dental office who needs to build trust and reassure patients about safety, direct mail allows you the space and time to educate patients about your safety protocols, the services your practice provides from which they can benefit, and it’s the most effective way for your practice to form a strong connection in area homes. Educational content, reassuring messages, and regular visibility will elevate your practice in your community.  
“I love the content,” says Dr. Hazel Glasper, a Patient News client who attracts new patients with an acquisition newsletter. “I have a practice that’s comprehensive. I needed marketing that would draw the patient who is a bit more discerning.”

In Summary…

Dentistry is an industry that is slower to recover than others. More than ever, it’s critical you communicate with patients, get clear on your data, plan strategically, be mindful of the patient journey, and take a proactive approach. These are the things that will secure your practice future and accelerate your recovery.

Need a helping hand? Reach out to our team at Patient News. For more than 27 years, we’ve remained committed to the success and longevity of dental practices across North America. We're by their side through the good times and bad – and we can do the same for you.

Our comprehensive list of customized solutions will help you prepare for recovery and secure a leadership position in your community post-pandemic.

Call us today for your FREE COVID Recovery Session. It starts with a call that will be well worth your time.