The coronavirus pandemic has put dental practices around the country in a tight spot. More than 75% of offices have closed to all but emergency care. And almost 20% of practices have not been seeing any patients.
However, as of the beginning of May, some states have reopened their economy. Therefore, some dental practices are planning to reopen to non-emergency care. The decision to reopen a practice depends on many factors, such as the availability of PPE, the health of your dental team, the location of your practice, and the number of cases in your area. When deciding whether or not to reopen, it is important to address all of these questions as well as seek guidance from your state authorities.
Nevertheless, if reopening is your choice, follow the following checklist to regain your momentum pre-COVID-19, prevent cross-contamination for you and your patients, and protect the overall health of the community.
Reopening Dental Practice Checklist
1. Infection control guideline
The risk of cross-contamination is very high in the dental setting. Thus, strict and effective infection control protocols are urgently needed. Practices need to have a guideline and train their dental team to comply.
To summarize, practices need to implement the following procedures:
- Health assessment for all team members before giving dental care.
- Patient screening via phone before scheduling appointments.
- Patient screening upon arrival.
- Adopt general housekeeping best practices.
- Apply these standard infection prevention practices.
2. Aerosol production
During the dental procedures, dentists should use a high-speed suction device to remove droplets and aerosols particles generated from the patient’s mouth. Consider systems that have multiple disinfection and sterilization layers to filter viruses and germs. Moreover, the ADA also recommends the employment of dental rubber dams to shield the aerosols from spreading.
3. Patient communication
Patient behavior will be very different. Scheduling will be more difficult, since patients will need to make sure that your dental care environment and treatment are safe.
In order to bring patients back, your practice needs to reach out and let them know about your reopening. Additionally, explain to patients about your infection control protocols and what will be different at your office. Have a new high-speed suction unit? Let your patients know through email blasts, social media posts, or postcards.
Furthermore, explain to them how a suction system could prevent infection risk. Only when you can reassure patients that your practice is taking all recommended precautions to protect their health and safety will they come back to your office.
4. Soft reopening
We highly recommend dentists to reopen your practices gradually. For instance, instead of seeing your patients in person 8 hours per day, you can now use just 3 hours. The other 5 hours will be used for virtual appointments and evaluations. A gradual opening allows you to assess how the situation will evolve and let your dental team get used to your new precautionary measures.
If it seems safe to expand, you gradually can increase the number of hours seeing your patients per day.
5. Staff shifts
During soft reopening, a strategy dentists could make is using staff shifts. Since the number of in-person appointments will be much lower, you can divide your dental team into shifts. Shifts limit the number of people present at a time in your office, reducing the risk of infection. Furthermore, if a member of your team is infected, personnel from other shifts are protected.
If your practice does not have enough employees available after reopening, consider cross-functioning. For example, team members such as your hygienists or dental assistants could cover the tasks of the office manager and receptionist if needed. To have a successful cross-functional team, each position should create a detailed list of their responsibilities and guide for each task.
6. Scheduling and triage
To minimize the risk of cross-contamination, practices should avoid stacking appointments, scheduling appointments with at least an added hour in between. In the situation when many appointments are needed at the same time, you need to evaluate the necessity of the in-person visit. Priority should be given to patients who need urgent care.
7. Patient waiting room
In addition to scheduling and triage, practices could reduce cross-contamination risk by changing the patient waiting room experience. Implement the following:
- Require all patients to have a mask when entering.
- Arrange seats at least 6 feet from one another.
- Remove all unnecessary touchable items, including brochures, magazines, toys, samples, etc.
- Provide tissues and no-touch receptacles for used tissue disposal.
- Restrict the number of people entering. For instance, encourage patients to come alone during their appointment if possible. Family members and caregivers need to wait outside of the waiting room.
8. Separated exam rooms
If possible, practices should have a separate exam room to treat patients that show symptoms associating with COVID-19. Additionally, inform such patients to come straight to the exam room and wait in their cars until their appointment.
When you decide to reopen your practice, following our checklist can ensure the safety of you, your team members, and your patients.
We will continue to add additional resources regarding practice reopening in the near future. Subscribe to our blog and follow us on social media to keep updated.