Much of my work now is with providers, investors, senior executives, board directors and other business leaders in the dental space, assisting them in reinventing dental practices to succeed post COVID-19. These are people who realize what they had and what they did in the past will not work nearly as well in the post coronavirus future.
My work is to have these professionals think new thoughts, imagine new futures and be more potent leaders in order to make these changes happen. This is not new territory for me. This has been my job for 35 years. And I have a record that allows me to say confidently, I am highly qualified to guide competent professionals to reinvent their dental practices, and themselves as leaders, to have new futures become a reality.
Reinvention is the action or process through which something is changed so much that it appears to be entirely new. My assertion is dental practices that refuse to reinvent themselves will eventually falter and fail.
When you look closely, there is now one overriding and emotionally charged question that the patients, staff and market have: that burning question is, “Will I be safe?”
“Will I be safe in this office?” The adjustments to the coronavirus conditions – quarantine, face masks, social distancing and the intimacy of mortality - has very much deepened people’s concerns about safety.
Patients and staff internally question, “Will the office I visit, or the office I work in, keep me safe? Will this office intensely have committed itself to patient safety? Will they build their behaviors and physical structures so I know I am not going to be exposed to anything that will make me sick or kill me?”
I propose you sincerely question and thoughtfully engage in the question, “How do I make my patients feel safer with every office contact – virtual and physical – with the practice?”
The obvious answer to this question is you will need to reinvent your practice. You’ll have to consider every aspect of the practice – physical plans, space usage, flow, financing, culture, leadership, manpower – how do you increase the sense of safety at each step of the patient’s experience with your practice?
Reinventing Your Company to Deliver on the New Future
Nearly all the practices today, single to mega DSOs, are focused on their survival. Scrambling for money, minimizing what’s going out and trying to identify where to get funds to tide them over. Furloughing all but the most valuable senior executives. Figuring out how to pay these people and any clinic individuals that are required for emergencies. There is a lot to do. And lots of stress. Everything is seeming to change overnight.
But what I continue to encounter is the hope that when things return to “normal,” we’ll pull the switch and go back to what we had before – maybe slow at first, but we’ll ramp up – may take some time but we know our business. As General MacArthur once said, “Hope is a terrible battle plan.”
For me, I am not going to put my money on the scenario of “back to normal.” In events like this, when the context shifts, everything operating within that new context shifts as well. Context is always decisive.
It seems to me, the context has changed, and it has changed forever. There is no going "back to normal." There will be permanent, irrevocable changes throughout the healthcare industry, of which dentistry is a part. In fact, in the new future, the integration of dental practices to primary care will be highly accelerated. Again, I’ll repeat, it will never go back to the way it was before.
Dentist practice owners, investors, banks and DSOs who think the past will work in the new future have clouded vision. They see through the past. You and your business will operate in a world that has been irreversibly altered. Asking, “How do we preserve what we have, so when this thing ends, we can get back to business as usual?” Man, I just don’t think that’s the right question.
Dentists, dental practices and managed groups will need to reinvent dental practices to succeed in the post COVID-19 future where safety becomes the critical feature that attracts and deepens allegiance to the practice from patients and staff.
Some of the Things My Clients are Working On
One of my client’s initiatives is working on how to stagger patients in a post COVID-19 future. She’s highly aware that no one wants to sit in a waiting room with other people for any period – if at all. Staggering patients will decrease patient flow, which in turn will decrease patient revenues.
This dentist-owner realizes staggering patients will communicate loudly to patients and staff that the practice is sincerely serious about safety. But how do you plan for that decrease in money and manpower?
Another client is working on upgrading air filters quickly in every location where patients are. Air filters and air purification machines are highly visible (to the patient) and measurable (to the future regulators). And they operate at the highest anti-viral standards. These machines will be commercial grade and expensive. One in every operatory. One in the reception area. One in the staff lounge. The assistant will be trained to inform each patient of the systems, explain the type of air filters in place and why the practice is doing it. The patient will feel safer (and it will be great word of mouth marketing until other followers catch-up). And, as important, the staff will feel safer.
Another client is figuring out how to control spray from handpieces and other dental gear. Spray carries viruses. Restorative and hygiene services need water and spray to deliver their work. Whomever solves this problem will make some money. In fact, I assume Schein and Patterson, and a few entrepreneurs, are already working on it.
I could go on with other client projects but you get the point. These professionals want to get ahead of the curve, not behind. There will be fewer patients, less staff, far more IT, strong teledentistry, proven AI in diagnosis and treatment planning, a virtual front desk, protective gear for all, elimination of the waiting room and a highly trained receptionist instead. Plus, rigid and rigorous patient protocols and processes that include how to ready the patient before and after treatment. My money is on the post COVID-19 future being different than “normal.”
Lastly, I am incredibly grateful to work with clients who are brave enough to acknowledge what they don’t know but trust themselves enough to know they can figure it out and make it happen. These clients are willing to take risks to match a new practice design with the post COVID-19 future.
Then again, I could be one of those “wing-nuts” out there, causing hysteria for profit. But those who know me and know of me, know I’ve been spot on when it concerns the future of dentistry. And, I am pretty sure I’ve got this one. I am working via Zoom (as everyone else). If you want to talk, go to my website and sign up as a guest.
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I strongly recommend you and your management team watch this Simon Sinek video about reinventing his own company. This is a video of a Sinek staff meeting addressing who they will need to be in the post COVID-19 future. https://youtu.be/6spNnsD-XOY