Covid-19 is something everyone is thinking about right now, as it’s leading to a spike in illnesses throughout the world. There are many ripple effects as well, particularly when it comes to businesses and the economy.
There is some debate about non-essential versus essential workers during this time, and medical practices, including dental practices, are having to shift the way they do things. When you’re managing a dental practice, what should you know right now?
Postponing Elective Procedures
The American Dental Association is recommending first and foremost that dental providers postpone or cancel any elective procedures.
The American Dental Association issued a statement in mid-March indicating that to do their part during Covid-19, dentists should postpone elective procedures for at least several weeks, but that guidance may end up being even longer.
The ADA also said they would be focusing on evaluating and providing timely updates to the industry as new information becomes available.
The ADA said Covid-19, which the World Health Organization now describes as a pandemic, is part of the coronavirus family. Coronaviruses are a family of viruses in people and animals that cause the common cold as well as more serious illnesses like SARS.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has its own set of guidelines for dental practices. They also recommend the postponement of elective procedures and non-urgent dental visits. The priority for dental practices in the coming weeks should be on emergency procedures and visits.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services guidance also says that all non-essential dental exams and procedures should be postponed until further guidance is given.
What About Emergency Appointments?
If there is a situation where a patient needs urgent clinical care, dental practice should follow infection prevention and control guidance.
The need for urgent or emergency procedures should be based on clinical judgment and should be looked at case-by-case.
When it comes to infection control procedures, these should be similar to what you always use in your dental practice. For example, of course, you’ll keep sterilizing non-disposable items between patients, and you and your staff will need to wear protective equipment.
Communicating with Patients
As health care providers, dentists should work to focus early and often with their patients. You want to let not only patients know whose appointments are canceled, but you also want to let everyone know what your plan is and what you’re doing to keep patients safe.
For example, if you’re closed and you send out a mass email, let patients know what they should do if they have an emergency and how they can contact you.
Take the time to remind your patients about your patient portal as well, so that they can go there to look at their files and documents and perhaps send you secure messages.
If you are shutting down your practice for the time being or working on a limited basis to only take care of emergency patients, you have to think about other issues such as how you’ll keep your practice afloat to the point when you can open it back up.
The American Medical Association is one group that’s created a financial checklist with guidance for administrators and physicians.
The tips that you’ll find on that checklist are related to implementing a process for fast-decision making, understanding insurance coverage, and having a financial contingency plan.
You’ll also find guidelines for how to let your essential employees travel to and from work if you’re in a state with restrictions on travel.
New financial resources are becoming available to small businesses. For example, there is a new loan product from the Small Business Association, in amounts up to $10 million to cover overhead and payroll costs. The loan comes with an expansion on loan forgiveness criteria, and if you’re a practice with fewer than 500 employees, you may qualify.
As part of the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund, there is also $100 billion in direct financial support to practices and health care providers.
Finally, telemedicine is becoming an increasingly viable option for health care providers of all types around the country and the world. The American Medical Association has created a “Quick Guide to Telemedicine in Practice,” which can help you navigate implementation.
Under the new legislation, there is an authority granted to the Secretary of Health and Human Services to waive telehealth coverage requirements for new patients, while in the past, there was a requirement that in order to use telehealth, patients had to have been established with the practice.