While most of the healthcare industry remained open for the duration of nationwide quarantine, dental practice slowed down to only performing emergency surgeries. The government-mandated pause of dental services created much financial strain but has now been lifted. If you are the owner and operator of a dental practice, you may be wondering what steps to take next and best practices for returning to work with new, heightened infection prevention for your office. This post provides an outline for the reopening process.
Jumpstarting your Schedule
The COVID closures struck quickly and your practice likely had to cancel full weeks of scheduled visits. Many, perhaps most, practices are now trying to plug the gaps caused by the COVID-related closure and bring patient loads back to pre-COVID levels. The best practices for reopening and rebuilding patient loads includes reaching out to the patients who lost visits in early 2020. There are a couple of ways to go about this. First, you can half your team call patients personally to invite them back to the office and explain orally your prevention policies. This adds a personalized touch that may help raise comfort levels and get patients through the door. Second, you can work with your counsel to develop a letter for distribution to your patents with cancelled or previously scheduled visits. A letter would help comply with CDC and OSHA guidelines to outline sanitization and prevention policies in clear language to your patients. An example of such a letter can be accessed here. By outlining your policies to patients, you will be able to clearly communicate expectations and reconnect with your patients in a meaningful way.
A big concern for dental offices during this process is determining what policies to put in place to both protect your staff and patients. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends the use of a Pre-Appointment Screening Process. This involves a phone call placed to all patients the day before their appointment. For best practices, follow these steps as outlined by the ADA. First, identify yourself, the office/doctor’s name and ask to speak with the patient or the patient’s parent or legal guardian. After explaining the purpose for the call, such as an appointment reminder, proceed with the Patient Screening Form questions, accessed here. Positive responses to any of these would likely indicate a deeper discussion with the dentist before proceeding with elective dental treatment.
Inform patients that these questions will be repeated and their temperature will be taken when they arrive at the office in order to ensure nothing has changed since the phone conversation. Remind patients and guardians to limit extra companions on their trip to your office to only essential people in order to reduce the number of people in the reception area. If the patients seem reluctant in any way, reassure them that although this may seem strange, it is all being done out of an abundance of concern for their health, as well as that of the other patients being seen in the office, the doctor and the staff, and any public with whom they might come in contact. Additionally, it may be prudent for your practice to implement a supplement to your employee handbook to update your employees of the new precautionary measures they should be following. This is an unprecedented time, but clear communication and careful planning can help make the transition smooth.
Updating Sanitization Policies
The nature of the dental visit is one that requires close contact and extra care during COVID-19. The CDC has released guidelines targeted directly at dental offices to make sure that they are implementing the most effective tools for preventing spread of the disease. The highlights include following the screening process as outlined above, allowing for a recommended fifteen-minute period between patients, always performing a deep clean of the area between patients, require patients to wear masks when walking around the office, and minimize the use of waiting rooms. The policy list provided by the CDC delves into greater detail, providing a checklist for dental offices, and is an excellent starting point for developing your own policies and procedures.
Upon implementing your new prevention policies, your overhead on Personal Protective Equipment and time spent disinfecting may increase to a point that you wish to increase office fees. The ADA has advised that D1999 can be used if billing to cover the cost of PPE. To read more about ADA’s billing recommendation, check out ADA News here. If your practice does decide to increase prices to cover PPE costs, the letter to patients would be a good place to include that information.
The reopening process can seem daunting after a long closure, but by taking a calculated and deliberate approach, it can be successful. For further advisement on how to update your formal policies and procedures, contact your attorney to discuss options to remain compliant with all of the CDC recommendations.
The information herein is not legal advice and does not create an attorney/client relationship. The information is in the form of legal education and is intended to provide general information about the matter. The above is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. Consult your attorney with questions.