Dental practices around the world continue to be impacted by the unprecedented disruption caused by the COVID-19 Pandemic. In Australia, level 3 restrictions eased to level 2 from Monday 27 April, 2020, after 4 weeks of being at level 3. Although uncertainty remains about when this crisis will abate fully, the Australian Dental Association (ADA) COVID-19 Guidelines are endorsed as the approach for dental care. It is important to be prepared now for what steps to take when your practice fully reopens for all procedures.
Although this is a unique situation, it is not unheard of for practices to close for more than a week at a time, perhaps over a holiday. All practices should have a standard operating procedure (SOP) in place that details steps for closing their practice, maintaining it while closed and opening it back up. If your practice does not have one, now is the time to develop it. It is important to have those procedures in place to ensure a seamless transition back to fully functioning practice.
From administrative to clinical to infection prevention tasks, there's a lot you can and should be doing to keep your practice in good shape.
Before closing a practice, there are a number of administrative tasks that need to be accomplished. For any standard closure, that includes determining a specific date and time for closure and notifying patients. Any patient communication should include contact information for emergencies as well as explaining what constitutes an emergency. In these special circumstances surrounding COVID-19, the ADA has developed guidance for defining a dental emergency.
A practice can also stay connected to patients by developing social media channels for ongoing communication and practice updates. Showing how the team is staying busy with training, cleaning and organising is a great way to illustrate your investment in the office.
Before closing, it is also important to back up all patient data and make arrangements for accepting packages and other deliveries if the staff won't be at the office.
Infection prevention and control policies
Since it will be top of mind for most people, start with a review of your infection prevention policies. If your practice doesn't have an infection prevention and control coordinator, now is a great time to appoint one so they can use this time to complete additional training and prepare any protocol updates. The ADA resource centre for COVID-19 has extensive resources including manuals and checklists.
An infection control coordinator can help set protocol for screening patients with respiratory symptoms and/or exposure to respiratory infections as well as adding and updating infection prevention information on the practice website and social media accounts.
It is also a good time to update hand hygiene training for the whole team in addition to doing a thorough review and update of PPE policy. It will be critical to returning to normal practice with a robust and clearly communicated approach to infection prevention.
Maintenance and upkeep
Just because practices are temporarily closed or seeing a limited number of patients, it doesn't mean there still isn't daily or semi-daily maintenance required. Here are some suggestions on what you can be doing, but it is important to remember to read and understand the IFUs for all your equipment, as that will be your best indicator on what maintenance is needed. The ADA has a detailed document on restarting practice that covers all details for Australian dental practices.
By understanding IFUs and taking the time to properly maintain your equipment, you will avoid any issues that might cause a delay in opening up your practice. Patients are going to be ready to go to make up for missed appointments and the last thing your practice needs is lost time due to an unforeseen mishap with your equipment.
And then, shift your mindset
Although all of the above is quite the undertaking, the most important non-clinical change will be your mindset. And right now is the perfect time to think through where your practice has been, where it is going and what your patients are going to need to see and hear in order to feel comfortable coming back to your practice. What has to be done before you can safely reopen your practice? What will be done differently? What has to be communicated and how in order to instill confidence in patients and staff? When your practice reopens, it will be in a post-COVID-19 world, where the old normal will simply not exist. Your practice needs to be safer than ever before when it comes to infection prevention. But nothing happens without a decision to make it happen.
Article courtesy of Hu-Friedy. Additional editing by Prof. Laurence Walsh AO.