In just one week our practice lives have been turned upside down by a tiny virus, COVID-19. To help protect our patients and team, we are now being asked to limit treatment to emergency care for three weeks and this will have a significant financial and emotional impact on us both personally and professionally.
How do we do manage a practice, take good care of our patients and keep ourselves healthy in this new and unexplored reality?
We need to accept and adjust our world to the new realities as they exist, and face them in a calm manner, one at a time. There are a number of positive steps you can take to guide your team and patients:
- Keep informed about the virus, take all necessary precautions and follow the latest ADA, CDC recommendations. They will be updated on an ongoing basis as new information becomes available. These include postponing elective procedures for the next three weeks. Concentrating on our patients with emergency dental needs will alleviate the burden that dental emergencies place on hospital emergency departments and help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. If a patient has the virus, but urgently requires dental treatment, the dentist and the patient’s medical providers should work together to determine the appropriate precautions on a case-by-case basis. Familiarize yourself with the answers to coronavirus frequently asked questions, and download the handout on ADA.org.
- Follow ADA and CDC guidance with patients who have been exposed to the virus or has symptoms and reschedule their appointments.
- Use this opportunity to build strong relationships with your patients. Communicate with them regularly by email or newsletter. Clarify what you are doing to keep them safe. Be compassionate and understanding of their needs. Show your character by presenting a united front with your team members. Become their most trusted source for health care information.
- Just as you’re building relationships with patients, do the same with your team. Reassure and update your team on a daily basis with the latest information and discuss how everyone can work together to provide the best patient care possible.
- Make sure that all team members understand to stay home if they think they may have been exposed to the virus or feel sick.
- Keep yourself healthy. Stress and anxiety can be contributing factors to a variety of illnesses.
- Your family and team are also looking to you for leadership and keeping a positive attitude will help them do the same.
- Understand that this, too, shall pass and you can readjust and reassess new practice situations as they present themselves.
- Work hard to manage the things you can control and accept that there are many things that you cannot. Acceptance of these new realities is difficult but necessary to move forward.
We can’t control the calamities and catastrophes that happen to us but we can control how we prepare, manage and grow through them. In the late 1980s we weathered the AIDS scare and came up stronger. The universal precautions developed during that time changed the way we practice and helped to prepare us for this crisis. By focusing calmly on taking the next right step as new information comes to light and making sure that you put your patients’ needs first, you will weather the storm ahead and can prepare your practice to thrive in the new normal after coronavirus.
Watch for upcoming articles with more information on emotionally managing the COVID-19 crisis.
About the author
Dr. Harms practiced dentistry as an enlisted officer in the U.S. Public Health Service, as a dental associate and for most of her career as co-owner of a private practice in Farmington, Minnesota. She served as a clinical assistant professor of operative and hospital dentistry at Loyola University Medical Center and School of Dentistry. She was the first woman president of the Minnesota Dental Association, chair of the ADA Council on Communications and member of the ADA Council on Government Affairs representing the 10th District. Dr. Harms has sent more than 164,000 books to 34 libraries in Rwanda through the Eric Harms Libraries (organized in memory of her son), through Books for Africa.
A former grief counselor and a civil mediator, she is a published author and national speaker focusing on major life events and conflict that can create shock, grief and coping struggles while practicing dentistry. Learn more at drkimberlyharms.com.