Dentist blog from Delta Dental

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Find the latest news about dentistry and the dental health industry.

How to hire and retain a great office team during a staffing shortage

Dentistry is experiencing a significant staffing shortage, and you’ve likely felt the crunch in your own office. A poll conducted by the ADA Health Policy Institute found that more than a third of owner dentists are looking to hire new staff, and more than 80% of those who are currently hiring report that recruiting is extremely or very challenging.

Many offices are dealing with the high stress, fatigue and loss of additional team members that can accompany a long-lasting staff shortage. Unfortunately, experts predict the problem won’t end anytime soon.

Here are some tips for navigating through this tricky time to avoid lengthy and stressful staff shortages in your office.

Be prepared to act quickly

That old management saying, “Hire slow, fire fast,” should be taken with a grain of salt nowadays. Good candidates are out there; they’re just being hired fast. You need to be prepared to screen candidates efficiently and to make an attractive offer to the right hire quickly.

If you wait too long, a good candidate may slip away and accept another position. Consider time-saving steps, such as checking a suitable candidate’s references before an interview takes place so that you can make a job offer right then and there, if a candidate seems like a particularly good fit.

Train current employees

Don’t forget the benefits of taking the time to train the team members you already have. Training and continuing education (CE) units should be a feature of your practice. This not only helps with staff retention and skills, but it also makes your office more attractive to potential new hires.

Studies show higher retention and satisfaction rates among employees where there are training and CE benefits. In addition, training and CE opportunities allow your team members to see that the business cares about them and is interested in their future. That kind of mutuality inspires better morale and lower turnover. Choose the appropriate and applicable courses based on the needs of your practice and the licensing requirements of positions.

In some instances, you may be hiring new team members with fewer skills than you did in the past due to the current crunch. Your practice will need to build systems that can help guide that new staff and also maximize the efficiency and skills of the current team. Training has an important role to play during a staff shortage, so don’t let it lag during this challenging time.

Look to current staff for leads

Your current staff is actually one of your best resources when it comes to finding new staff. Your team members have friends, family members and contacts in the dental industry. With referrals, you can potentially recruit faster by skipping the initial job advertising and resume screening. And referred candidates also tend to be a good fit because they come in knowing at least one person in the office and they arrive with some idea of what the work culture is like. According to CareerBuilder, 88 percent of employers rated employee referrals above all other sources for generated quality of new hires. If you don’t have one already, consider creating an employee referral program to structure and formalize the referral process in your office.

Foster a positive office culture

Getting stressed out and overwhelmed in the middle of a pandemic when staff is short is certainly understandable. But remember, no one wants to work in a chaotic or unpleasant environment for long. Staffing woes will only get worse if your office is not a good place to work. Continue to collaborate with your team on a consistent basis to build a positive, motivated work environment. Build trust in your team through listening and empathy.

When things are hard, patients, staff and dentists are all on edge, but teams value a leader who shows up, listens, stays present and cares. Acknowledge the hard times, and celebrate the good times, like birthdays and holidays. Take a serious look at the environment, team spirit and career paths at your practice, and do what you can to make improvements wherever your office is lacking. A great dental team is the heart and soul of any successful practice, so be sure you’re leading through difficult times with trust and empathy.

Artificial intelligence and the future of dentistry

With artificial intelligence, or AI, the future of dentistry has arrived. While AI will never replace the personal care and attention you provide your patients, this technology can help you become more consistent and efficient, and can act as an objective second opinion when you’re faced with difficult or ambiguous decisions.

What exactly is AI, anyway?

While AI may conjure images of gleaming robots and sentient computers, the reality is far less dramatic. AI uses computer software to analyze large sets of information and find patterns in them. As it gathers more and more information, it gradually learns to assess situations and then make informed decisions or predict outcomes.

Interesting. So how can AI help me?

AI can improve your ability to detect dental conditions quickly and accurately, and can consistently provide you with appropriate treatments options. So far, AI has proven useful for several applications:

What else can AI help me with?

On the administrative side, AI can help speed up the claims process and help you better serve your patients.

When you submit a claim to an insurance company, the insurance company must determine whether your procedure will be covered. Inconsistency and disagreements during this process can cause frustration and delays, which can in turn lead to frustration and delays in treatment for your patients.

AI can analyze data far more quickly and accurately than a person can. Its ability to make quick, impartial decisions ― particularly when analyzing oral imagery ― takes the ambiguity and human subjectiveness out of the claims process. This brings speed, consistency and reliability to the decision-making process, which means less headaches for you and your patients.

AI can also help insurers detect bad actors to help ensure dental care remains available and affordable for your clients. By being able to examine and compare thousands of x‑rays, AI can quickly detect resubmission fraud and overdiagnosis, and distinguish fraud patterns from honest errors, such as when a dental office mistakenly submits the wrong image with a claim.

This sounds promising. Does AI have any drawbacks?

A few. Much of the dental patient data that AI need to make accurate diagnoses isn’t as available or accessible as some other data because it’s protected or confidential. That means these data sets are often relatively small compared with other datasets used for AI applications and may be incomplete.

Also, the data that is available may result in a bias by the AI program. For example, datasets obtained from hospitals, where patients often visit due to an injury, dental emergency or severe dental conditions, might suggest that patients are sicker than they actually are. Conversely, data from wearable devices such as smartwatches, which are often worn by healthy young people and athletes, might lead the AI to assume that patients are unusually healthy. This bias can also lead to AI overlooking certain groups of underrepresented patients.

Still, the technology shows great potential, and advances in AI promise to make it an integral part of your dental practice. While the technology is still emerging, AI may help you to serve your patients more efficiently, consistently and confidently than ever.

How teledentistry can bring value to your practice

Since the start of the COVID pandemic, the use of teledentistry has increased significantly. This has created intriguing — and potentially lucrative — opportunities for dental practices. Are you taking full advantage of this new technology? Dr. Daniel Croley, Delta Dental’s chief dental officer, explains how.

In his new Dental Economics magazine article, “The value teledentistry visits bring to dentists and their patients,” Dr. Croley talks about the intrinsic value of teledentistry, the various types of teledentistry and how teledentistry can bring value to your dental practice and patients.

It’s no surprise that the pandemic accelerated the adoption of telehealth across the medical and dental spheres. As dental offices learned to navigate lockdown measures, extended safety protocols, and assuaged patients’ fears of becoming exposed to the virus via the dental office, virtual care has only scratched the surface of its potential in teledentistry. The market is expected to reach $2.6 billion by the end of the decade.

Dr. Daniel Croley 

Read the full article in Dental Economics.

Your dental policy brief: Current issues and news updates as of December 14

From Medicare news to the latest on COVID policy, FYI brings you the biggest dental policy stories.

1. New Medicare Advantage network policy for dentists

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has clarified that rules prohibiting payment to providers who have opted out of participation in Medicare don’t apply to supplemental benefits, such as dental. The new policy will become effective January 1, 2022.

The new policy means that dentists who have opted out of our Medicare Advantage (MA) network can now file MA claims, and Delta Dental will pay claims for MA enrollees who participate in closed-panel MA group plans.

Note that Delta Dental can accept and pay these claims from dentists outside our MA network only as long as this policy remains in effect. Therefore, we strongly encourage dentists who have opted out of this network to enroll.

Our MA network provides you with a great way to keep your retirement-aged patients and continue to provide them with quality dental care. And since you’ll appear in our online MA network provider directory, you can attract new patients as well. Reimbursement is based on your current Delta Dental PPO fees.

Be advised that the MA network opt-out period is two years and will automatically renew unless you notify us 30 days before your current opt-out period ends that you’d like to enroll. Since you may not be aware that you’ve opted out, we encourage you to review your MA network status as soon as possible.

2. New York City vaccine mandate now includes dentists

All private employers in New York City, including dentists and their employees, must be vaccinated against COVID-19, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced December 6. The mandate will take effect December 27. Dentists and their staff must provide proof they’ve received at least one dose of the vaccine. An exception for people who agree to regular COVID-19 testing instead of the receiving the vaccine won’t be allowed.

New York state currently has a vaccine mandate for all health care workers (which the United States Supreme Court upheld on December 13); however, it doesn’t apply to private practices such as dental offices.

3. White House pledges to help address dental care shortages in underserved communities

The Biden administration announced it will invest $1.5 billion to help tackle a shortage of dentists and other health care workers in disadvantaged communities. The funding will come from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan passed in March.

The resources will go to the National Health Service Corps, Nurse Corps and Substance Use Disorder Treatment and Recovery programs. These federal programs offer scholarships and assistance with student loans to health care workers and students who agree to work in underserved communities.

What’s ahead for dentistry in 2022 and beyond?

The arrival of COVID-19 followed by the rapid development of vaccines created a bumpy, unpredictable couple of years for the field of dentistry. That turbulence has left everyone in the industry wondering and worried about what’s ahead in 2022. Here are our thoughts about what lies ahead for the field of dentistry next year and beyond.

1. Staffing will remain a major issue in the wake of the pandemic

The arrival of COVID-19 brought huge changes to nearly every aspect of American life, and dentistry was no exception. From the total suspension of non-emergency dental care at the peak of the outbreak to the adoption of updated infection control practices, the pandemic has had a major impact on the dental profession. It’s safe to say we’ll continue to see and feel the reverberations throughout 2022.

While more and more patients are returning to the dentist for routine care and other procedures, almost half of dentists report that hiring new staff post-outbreak is the No. 1 factor limiting volume. A poll from the American Dental Association found that 35.8% of owner dentists are currently recruiting dental assistants, 28.8% are seeking dental hygienists, 26.5% are looking to hire administrative staff and 13.1% are in search of associate dentists.  More than 85% of these dentists said that hiring for a position like dental hygienist was much more challenging than before the pandemic.

This disparity between staffing and volume won’t be soon or easily resolved, and we predict it will be one of the major issues for dentistry in 2022. 

2. Teledentistry will continue to grow

Teledentistry understandably picked up steam during the pandemic. Services like Delta Dental’s Virtual Consult  provide easy and safe access to dental care.

An analysis of Google trends published by the Journal of Clinical Medicine found a five-time increase in query rates for “teledentistry” during the COVID-19 pandemic. Any new growth is somewhat restricted by teledentistry’s limitation to triage and advice. Nonetheless, according to DocASAP’s annual State of Patient Access and Engagement survey, 40% of people would switch health care providers based on availability for both telehealth and in-person visits. Teledentistry is having a moment, and it’s likely to last into 2022 and beyond.

3. New tech will continue to reshape the industry

Dentistry is a field that’s defined by innovation. Some of the technologies we’ll have our eyes on for growth in 2022 and beyond include:

  • Augmented reality. AR has found a home in dentistry for both educational and clinical purposes. But look for it to become more and more prevalent in reconstructive and aesthetic procedures in the near future. AR apps use a digital camera to overlay virtual depictions of an improved set of teeth prior to a procedure. This allows patients and dentists to configure features such as height and spacing to their liking before they even enter the surgery room.
  • Virtual reality. VR completely closes off the outside world with a dedicated headset and immerses the user in a virtual environment. By slipping such a headset on their head, students and aspiring dental surgeons can be transported to the operating room, or patients can visualize a calming landscape while seated in the dentist’s chair to improve their experience.
  • 3D printing. As this technology is set to become an integral part of many healthcare practices, it’s also becoming more and more incorporated into dental labs. With a 3D printer doing the hard work, dental labs can eliminate the bottleneck of manual modelling and quicker creation of crowns and bridges.
  • Chatbots. Up to 80% of customers’ frequently asked questions could be answered by a chatbot, according to estimates by IBM. It’s no wonder that the healthcare chatbot market is expected to reach $967.7 million by 2027. Chatbots can streamline inquiries and save office staff time by answering routine questions and even scheduling appointments. The technology has the potential to save businesses up to $8 billion in 2022, according to IBM.
  • Appointment confirmation software. Like chatbots, appointment confirmation software automates a previously time-intensive process prone to error and neglect. Many appointment confirmation software systems even offer patients the option to make their own appointments. In 2022, look for confirmation software to continue to integrate with online payment, virtual dentistry and other office and data collection software.

4. Dentistry will get greener

Dentistry is an energy- and resource-intensive field with a significant environmental impact. Dental practices discard approximately 680 million chair barriers, light handle covers and patient bibs, as well as 1.7 million sterilization pouches each year, according to the Eco-Dentistry Association. Many dentists are responding to concerns over the practice’s carbon footprint, and patients are becoming more likely to choose environmentally conscious practices. The industry continues to respond to providers’ and patients’ concerns about the environment, with new high-tech innovations often allowing for waste reduction. In 2022 and beyond, we predict that more dental practices will seek ways to reduce pollution and to serve the wellness lifestyle that more patients are choosing.

Your dental policy brief: Current issues and updates in the news as of November 8

From Medicare policy news to the effects of COVID-19 on the industry, FYI brings you the biggest dental policy stories.

1. Dental benefits cut from proposed 2022 Biden spending plan

Dental benefits won’t be paid for through Medicare under the Biden administration’s proposed $1.85 trillion U.S. spending plan, released on October 28. Vision benefits were also cut, while hearing benefits remain as of November 8. The three benefits, part of the original $3.5 trillion plan, were estimated to cost more than $350 billion over a decade. The cut potentially leaves 20 million people who receive Medicare but don’t receive dental benefits without dental coverage.

2. Plan extends Affordable Care Act tax credits through 2025

Biden’s spending plan extends tax credits for insurance purchased on Health Insurance Marketplace exchanges — including dental insurance — through 2025. The extension will help as many as 3 million uninsured people get coverage, according to the White House, and 4 million more may be able to get insurance through state exchanges. The proposed credits, worth approximately $130 billion, are expected to reduce annual premiums for insurance purchased through the ACA by an average of $600 per person.

3. Practices can ask for patient and employee COVID-19 vaccination status, HHS says

Asking whether patients and dental practice employees have received a COVID-19 vaccination doesn’t violate the HIPAA Privacy Rule, according to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Asking employees to provide documentation of their COVID-19 vaccination is also permitted. Finally, the rule doesn’t prohibit patients or employees from disclosing this information. The rule does limit how practices can use and disclose the vaccination status information they gather, however.

4. Dentistry’s COVID recovery slipping, poll suggests

Dental practices that report their operation as “business as usual” have been declining steadily since July, poll data released October 25 indicates. 

  • Dental practices that reported being both open and having normal patient volume was down to 62% in October from 68% during July.
  • Practices reporting lower-than-average patent volumes has steadily increased, to 37% in October from 31% in July.
  • Approximately 12% of practices reported reducing staff hours in October, and 6% downsized their teams.

5. Fluoride toothpaste added to WHO’s essential drug list

The decision of the World Health Organization (WHO) to add several dental medicines, including fluoride toothpaste, to the WHO Model List of Essential Medicines is being hailed as a major achievement for global oral health. The medicines, which also included silver diamine fluoride (SDF) and glass ionomer cement, are the first dental medicines added to the list since 1973. A new section on dental preparation was also added to the list. This action comes after the WHO’s recent resolution on oral health, which calls for a global strategy action plan.

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