The power of care calls during uncertain times

I remember the transition I went through after I purchased my dental practice. That was a time of uncertainty for patients of the practice because, well, they just didn’t know what they were getting. Who was this new guy taking over the office? Through the first few weeks of my transition, my team updated me on the many questions people were asking them. So, I decided to spend two consecutive weekends reaching out to everyone by phone. Many of my friends who also practice dentistry were in disbelief about this. “You did what?”, they’d say to me. But, in retrospect, I can see how much value my outreach had in reassuring my future patients.

Photo of Dr. Hornby

Dr. Hornby

I believe that, right now, we have a similar opportunity.

As dentists are returning to work to offer full-service care for their patients, there are many uncertainties. Many of us still don’t know what demand for services will be like over the coming months. This will hinge almost entirely upon the degree to which our patients feel comfortable and safe coming to our offices for care.

In dentistry, we face the difficult challenge of providing a service where our faces loom over the open mouths of our patients. During these times, many people will see this as posing a risk to their safety. All of this despite the fact that we will be wearing N95 masks and face shields, screening our team members daily for symptoms of illness while continuing to thoroughly disinfect office surfaces. Many of us have purchased high efficiency air purifiers to improve patient safety.  I strongly believe that our offices are some of the safest public spaces right now given our knowledge of, and commitment to stringent infection control protocols. However, if we don’t communicate this to our patients, they’ll never understand that. This will result in a greater percentage of patients avoiding our offices.

All dentists have the ability to help patients bridge this knowledge gap by communicating with them personally. New dentists have the wonderful honor of being able to shape the next generation of dentistry. We can choose to be more accessible to, and informal with, our patients. We can choose to bring back the “care call.”  In doing so, we can connect with our patients during a time of great uncertainty to address their fears and anxieties and to answer their most important questions.

Direct personalized contact with patients has tremendous power. People are uncertain about safety in public spaces right now. I believe most people are very anxious about seeking dental cleanings and treatment. We face the challenge of communicating to patients about safety in our offices because, I believe, they are unlikely to actively seek out this information and are more likely to simply avoid us.

I am aware that many dentists across the country are sending mass emails and posting on social media to communicate about the measures they’re taking to maximize patient safety. There is certainly value to this. However, I believe that direct contact through a care call allows each patient to ask us any questions they have about their safety in our offices. When we send emails and post socially, we assume that we are addressing all of their concerns. At the very least, direct patient contact will teach us about specific patient concerns that we may not have previously considered.

I strongly believe that reaching out proactively with care calls can increase the percentage of our patients who will feel comfortable coming ino our office. It gives us an opportunity to reassure patients about our status as experts in infection control and patient safety. Most people don’t think of us in this light. Personal contact affords us the ability to outline how we are responding to current challenges to maximize patient safety. It allows us to reassure patients that our dental offices are likely to be far safer than the grocery stores and takeout restaurants they’ve been visiting through the scary stages of the pandemic. And, these care calls at the very least will build goodwill by showing patients we care enough to call them personally. I strongly believe in the idea that a single care call dramatically increases the likelihood that your patient stays with you long term.

So, if you’ve recently returned to practice on a reduced basis or are anticipating a return in the coming weeks, try to block of some spare time to call as many of your patients as you can. Spend time encouraging questions so that you can put them at ease. The call shouldn’t be rehearsed, but it will help to have an outline of the things you want to get across to them. Patient screening and reduced traffic in the waiting rooms? Let them know about it. N95 masks to filter virus particles and an additional, solid-barrier face shield for good measure? Let them know about those, too. And, if you’ve invested in Air Purification Technology, I’m sure they’d love to hear about that, too! The right information quells anxiety and builds confidence. Help your patients to understand how you plan on keeping them safe.  It will pay off.

Dr. Kyle Hornby has owned and operated Kitchener Dentist a family Dental Practice in Kitchener, Ontario since 2015.  He has written for Oral Health Group and Dentistry IQ and maintains a special interest in effective patient outreach techniques and building goodwill. When he’s not in the office, he enjoys every second he gets at home with his wonderful wife and 3 children. Dr. Hornby is an international member of the ADA.

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