As dentists go, so goes the economy. This according to a recent New York Times article, which describes dentists as “the perfect barometer” for the economy’s health during the coronavirus pandemic.
And the good news is that there’s cause for optimism.
Why dentists? According to some economists, dental practices are an ideal business model: The practices tend to be long lived, their dentists earn consistently high salaries, and the services they provide can’t be found elsewhere. If you need dental care, you need a dentist.
This stability makes dental practices a good indicator of how well — or if — the nation is rebounding from the ongoing pandemic. And so far, the signs are positive.
Initially among the hardest hit industries within the healthcare sector, the dental industry is staging a strong recovery. Almost 90% of dental practices are paying their employees fully as of the week of July 13, according to data from an American Dental Association (ADA) Health Policy Institute survey. That’s up from only 11% during the first week of April.
This rebound equates to 250,000 jobs gained — which is 10% of the jobs added to the entire U.S. economy — according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
While this is encouraging, the recovery is not complete. Employment with the industry is still down 30%, with almost 300,000 fewer people employed than were before the pandemic.
Perhaps more telling is patient volume. The Times article reports that patient volumes are currently half of what they were before the pandemic. And, fewer than half of practices report having patient volumes greater than 75% of their typical volume, according to the ADA survey for the week of July 13. So while you and your staff might be ready to return to work, your patients might be a bit more reluctant.
Still, patients are returning. For instance, in mid-April more than 85% of practices reported that their practice volumes were less than 5% of what they usually were. The current figures then, while down from pre-pandemic numbers, are a significant improvement and more importantly, part of a consistent upward trend.
Collections, too, are trending up. While in mid-April more than three-quarters of practices reported their volume of collections at less than 5% of normal, the most recent survey data reveals that more than 80% of practices have at least half of their usual collection volume, and more than half of those practices have more than 75%.
So while there are still significant challenges to overcome, the overall news is good. This data suggests not only a positive outlook for the American economy, but a particularly strong comeback for the dental industry.