Reopening: Dental Office Changes to Comply with the Rules and Guidelines of Our “New Normal”  

Staying safe is your main priority in this new environment; and this means big changes to the new normal when reopening. It’s important that, even though the numbers are falling, and the curve is flattening in many places, we do not become complacent.  

There are too many people out there that have stopped social distancing, stopped wearing masks in public places, stopped wearing gloves or sanitizing or washing their hands regularly. It’s when we become complacent that the virus surges. Even here in my city of Winnipeg, the number of cases (though low now) is rising.  

It is up to us to continue flattening the curve, and therefore, changes are being made to dental offices around the country as a way to keep staff, patients, and dentists healthy and safe.  

1. New PPE Fee guide codes 

Look for these in your email, either from your software provider or your Association directly. These fees offset the cost of PPE, and even though Dental Associations all over the country are providing new PPE codes for these fees, it is up to the dentist if they want to charge these fees to their patients.  

In Manitoba, one dentist has said no way: See the full story below: 

https://globalnews.ca/news/7086969/manitoba-dentists-now-able-to-charge-clients-additional-fees-to-offset-ppe-costs/ 

If the plan is to charge these fees, keep an eye on your email for instructions about how to add the new codes to your current practice management software.  

2. Minimizing touchpoints in the Office 

Minimizing touchpoints seems to be the goal now of many dental offices, but it’s a matter of understanding that those changes include more than just removing toys, magazines, and other non-essential items from your waiting room. 

It might also mean…  

  • Switching from using paper charts to going digital to eliminate passing those paper charts around from receptionist to dentist back to the cabinet, etc.  
  • Going from printing a receipt for the patient to emailing the receipt. 
  • Limiting the amount of traffic in your waiting area and the inevitable touching of the front desk by having a digital check-in system right at the front entrance 

Anything that reduces interaction with hard surfaces is a must in this new world.  

3. Changes in the way you communicate (with patients) 

The way you communicate with your patients matters in this new world, so if technology was not top of mind, then you remember communicating by postcard or filling out a business card with the next appointment date to hand to the patient. Or, a patient would come in and schedule a walk-in appointment face-to-face.  

But now, in order to limit your interaction with hard surfaces and with people, it can be tougher. For example, in Ontario, scheduling an appointment in-person is no longer recommended. According to their Standards of Practice document: “Dentists must ensure that patients are triaged and appointments are scheduled by phone or via teledentistry (not in person or via walk-in).” 

This also means no more postcards or business cards. Now it’s all about the alternative communication methods, such as sending reminder emails or texts (like the one I received today from my dentist).   

 4. Changes in the way you communicate (with staff) 

Communication in the office is vital to a smooth-running office, but just like patient communication, intra-office communication has to change to better suit the situation. The last thing you want is the halls and corridors teeming with staff, wandering back and forth to relay messages. It is best to limit that interaction as much as possible but without damaging the line of communication between the admin staff and clinical staff. 

Again, it all comes down to technology. Introducing an intra-office communication system to your clinic will allow your staff to communicate smoothly without ever leaving their desks. This will then limit the amount of high traffic you might usually see with a full office.  

5. A lot of signs and barriers 

Even at the beginning of this pandemic, I was starting to see signs posted on the wall, listing the symptoms of COVID-19 and what to do if a patient has any of the symptoms. But this has fast become the new normal, and something you should be aware of.  

For example, Ontario’s “Standards of Practice” require the following during a dental office setup: 

  • Dentists should post signage in common areas (e.g., at the main entrance and in the waiting area) communicating relevant expectations for patients, including any requirements for: a. hand hygiene (e.g., a requirement to wash and/or sanitize hands upon entry to the practice); b. respiratory hygiene (e.g., a requirement to wear a mask within the practice); and c. physical distancing (e.g., a requirement to maintain a minimum distance of 2 meters, except as required for the provision of care). 
  • Dentists should also post signage at the entrance to the office and at reception describing the signs and symptoms of COVID-19. 
  • Dentists are advised to consider installing physical barriers at key contact points to reduce the spread of droplets, including reception (e.g., a plexiglass shield) 

Conclusion 

Our new normal isn’t going to change any time soon, so these changes, though drastic, are crucial to keeping your patients, your staff, and yourself as safe and healthy as possible. Keep in mind that, in addition to these changes, the rules we’ve been living by for months still apply, including maintaining a six-foot distance when possible, and washing your hands regularly.  

If we stick to the plan set out for us and stay united in what we must do for ourselves and others, we will get through this. We do not want to become complacent and let our guard down, not yet. We have a ways to go, but with patience and perseverance, we will make it through this. Together.  

Resources: 

https://az184419.vo.msecnd.net/rcdso/pdf/standards-of-practice/RCDSO_COVID19_Managing_In_Person_Care.pdf 

https://www.oralhealthgroup.com/features/dentistry-in-the-era-of-covid-19-adhering-to-the-new-normal/ 

https://www.oralhealthgroup.com/covid-19/ 

https://www.timescolonist.com/business/dentists-work-to-clear-backlog-after-months-long-closures-1.24161083