Leverage creativity to address looming uncertainty this fall.
As summer ends and back-to-school time returns, owning doctors may experience uncertainty and volatility once again. With both patients and employees dealing with homeschooling or virtual education due to the COVID-19 pandemic, doctors are feeling the pressure from both sides. However, with a little creativity and preparation, your practice can still maintain a successful fall schedule.
Judson Crawford, a CPA and partner at Cain Watters and Associates, notes that right now, acceptance of dental procedures is at an all-time high, demonstrating that dental health and wellness is still a high priority for patients and their children.
However, the unknowns surrounding school will have an impact on patients and employees’ schedules, making the fall a challenging time for dental practices. You can get ahead of this by implementing creative solutions that will promote a more resilient practice for the fall and beyond.
Empathize With Parents
Regarding staff, balancing employment and scheduled hours with the new demands of back-to-school will be challenging for everyone. Rather than try to ignore it, everyone on staff needs to roll up their sleeves.
“It is going to take everybody in the practice to have a flexible and creative mindset going into fall and until we get back to normalcy. The Department of Labor is recommending flexible work arrangements when possible,” explains Judson. “Some things can be done from home, but it’s different when you need to assist a doctor or perform a procedure.”
Regarding patients, in order to be flexible you will need to be aware of what is going on in the community around you. Practices should understand how local school options may impact their patients and consider a change in operating hours. Some schools may require virtual students to be online during set timeframes, making it nearly impossible for parents to get dental care for themselves or their children.
Another tactic to garner a better understanding of the impact of back-to-school is to informally poll your clients and staff with school-age children. Ask them how they are balancing parental demands and how this impacts their ability to receive or give dental services. Not only does this help plan potential changes in your practice, but it also builds a culture of empathy within your office.
“It’s just an understanding of where the parents are,” Judson said. “It’s not meant to instigate fear. Although doctors can rely on their own instincts, polling the staff is not only necessary for the business, it also shows that you care. Frankly, it’s also good marketing that shows empathy for your patients. It shows that you are caring and creating a competitive advantage by responding to the needs of the community.”
Embrace Flexibility and Creativity
While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, there are a few creative solutions to consider. Some practices are making adjustments to hours, whether extending hours later into the evening or offering weekend appointments.
This may also accommodate staffing at a time when it is increasingly difficult to hire new talent due to the challenges surrounding COVID-19. It may not be as simple as calling a temp agency or rehiring old staff anymore. However, with some creativity and resilience applied early, you can get ahead of this challenge.
Also, consider if there are inventive ways to make your team’s life a little easier. Maintaining a positive attitude and inclusivity as a leader is vital.
Involve your team in making decisions so they have a sense of ownership. Allowing them to be part of the problem-solving process by soliciting them for fresh ideas can be a win-win scenario for everyone.
In addition, it’s a vital time to show empathy; and some dentists are even being creative with support. Consider sharing the cost of a tutor for your staff’s children or identify a counseling program that will help them weather this storm.
“The staff will be in the same situation as your patients and it may not be easy for them,” explains Judson. “We’re all struggling through this together and even if your staff are dedicated, they may need help. Open your heart and mind. Be ready. The people who are creative will be the winners in the end.”
Maximize Efficiency Through Technology
Outsourcing is one more way to address staffing challenges. This primarily may focus around front office duties because clinical duties must be done in person. Consider options for billing as well as handling inbound and outbound calls.
“Do you have the ability to text back and forth with patients? Do you have the ability for online scheduling? These are things that can reduce the burden on the front desk,” emphasizes Judson. “When manpower is spread thin, lean in on technology that allows you to do more with less. These are not just solutions for the pandemic. They’re long-term solutions. COVID-19 has changed consumer behavior and expectations are forever changed.”
Market Your Practice
During the fall, it will also be important to continue basic marketing to help fill the schedule. Judson notes that his clients who’ve found success during this difficult time have maintained their digital and social media marketing tactics as well as focused on leveraging referrals through their patient base.
“One of my concerns is that during this pandemic, most practices are doing everything they can to not spend money,” says Judson. “They’ve reopened in May and they are very focused on getting caught up. Sometimes those basic foundations of marketing go out the back door. What you should be doing is screaming from the rooftops that we’re safe, we’re open and we’re here.”
Judson notes that many practices are hearing from patients that they are pleased with the level of safety during their procedures. One simple and free marketing tactic is to ask patients to leave a Google review about their experience, which not only increases your exposure to potential new patients but also emphasizes the measures your practice has taken to keep clients safe.
Need More Creative Solutions to Maintain Production?
Our new six-part webinar series is a resource you can rely on for additional creative strategies to maintain productivity. It offers actionable solutions to put you ahead of unique problems that may emerge during the pandemic. From creative scheduling, outsourcing, appointment scheduling technology to leveraging the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, this series tackles the issues you are facing today.
While this uncertainty can be frustrating, it is also an opportunity for your practice to show empathy when times are rough for everyone.
Judson notes: “Remember, if you can be a bright spot for your patients and show them that you are meeting their needs, you will make their day better. You’re doing these things for business reasons; but, in doing them, you are being kind and empathetic to your staff and the community.”