As a dentist, you know that regular office visits are essential for your patients’ oral health, but your patients might have questions and concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the American Dental Association, 98% of dental practices are open for business, but less than 50% are seeing the same number of patients as before the pandemic.
The ADA has also found that most people are ready to return to their dentist’s office (although some of them may need assurances that they’ll be safe) even if there are COVID-19 cases locally, and that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the ADA are the two most trusted sources of information about whether or not it’s safe to go to the dentist. With all of that in mind, here are some tips on how to get patients back in the office, reassure them of their safety and keep them coming back.
1. Put new safety procedures and practices in place
Reassuring your patients of their safety is an essential first step in encouraging them to return. Dentists’ offices have long been kept meticulously clean to prevent the spread of bloodborne illnesses. The spread of COVID-19, though, has required new practices to address potential infection through saliva droplets. Highlighting these new practices is an excellent opportunity to make your patients feel safer.
For example, these practices may be worth implementing:
- Have patients wait for their appointments inside their cars rather than inside your waiting room, even if you have the space for them to socially distance.
- Put up a clear plastic screen between the front desk and the waiting area. This helps to prevent a stray cough or sneeze from spreading saliva droplets when patients are checking in or paying their bill.
- Install equipment that helps remove germs from the office, such as medical-grade air purifiers.
- Check patients’ temperature with an infrared thermometer upon their arrival. You’ll want to use a thermometer especially made for use as a wellness device (infrared thermometers that aren’t explicitly made for medical use may be inaccurate when used on the human body.)
- Have patients do their part, too, such as by performing a peroxide rinse before getting into the chair.
2. Effectively communicate with and listen to your patients
One of the biggest contributors to feelings of fear and uncertainty is a lack of reliable information from a trusted source. When it comes to their oral health, you are your patients’ primary subject matter expert. Explain not just what changes you’re instituting at the office to keep patients safe, but also why you’re making those changes and how they keep patients safe.
It’s important to create opportunities to interact with your patients so that you can keep them informed of the latest changes and persuade them to return when they’re ready. The ADA has found that patients prefer to be communicated with via email, text and phone, in that order.
If you’re using software to communicate with your patients via email or text, let them know:
- Your office is open for business
- You’re following new procedures to ensure everyone’s safety
- You’re available to talk if they have questions or concerns (offering teledentistry appointments is a great way to interact directly with your patients!)
If you’d rather emphasize a human touch, you could have office staff directly call your patients to remind them not to forget check-ups and see if there’s anything your office can do for them.
Also, don’t forget to be an active listener. If you ask your patients their concerns, make sure you indicate that you’re listening attentively and taking their words under consideration.
3. Think outside the box
Finally, when it comes to persuading patients to return and attracting new patients, don’t be afraid to think outside the box! Encourage patients to leave reviews and feedback on social media. A positive review and a description of safety protocols on Yelp or Google can go a long way towards assuring would-be patients that your office is a safe environment.
Similarly, consider updating your practice’s website if you haven’t done so recently. Adding customer testimonials is a good idea, and you can also add photos that highlight changes throughout your office. If you’re feeling especially ambitious, you could also create a video walkthrough of your practice to serve as a virtual tour of the office! Or, add videos that highlight new safety practices and equipment you’ve implemented, such as peroxide rinses or medical-grade air purifiers.
We also suggest updating your current office hours in Provider Tools to help your patients access care in your office. Patients often use the dentist directory when looking for contact information, so making sure that your information is up to date and that it matches the info available in other locations (such as your website or Yelp) can help eliminate confusion. Fortunately, logging in to your profile in our Provider Tools and update your office hours is simple!
The ADA’s Health Policy Institute has also found that nearly three out of four people who visited the dentist in 2019 would be comfortable returning right now. Another 11% would be willing to return to the dentist if they had some kind of assurance that their visit would be safe while the remaining 15% are waiting for a vaccine. That means that if you’re seeing fewer than 85% of the patients you were before the pandemic, you might be able to bring more back to your practice. Follow the steps above, and you might get the extra bump in business you need to make the new normal a little more like the old one.