AUTHOR: The Dental CFO
March 07, 2022
There are numerous challenges in running a dental practice, such as technological shifts, patient expectations, and ever-evolving economic issues — to name a few. In addition to the challenges dentists face on a clinician's front, managing a dental practice is also a test of one’s entrepreneurial spirit. Opening a dental practice is only the first step, as the different stages of a dental career can also result in evolving business goals.
When an industry goes through a massive upheaval, such as the kind wrought by COVID-19, it leads to enormous challenges that weren’t anticipated. However, difficult periods can also lead to major successes when these challenges are properly addressed.
Below, we describe the challenges that dentists can expect to experience in 2022 and beyond and what can be done to use them as a launchpad for practice growth.
Difficulty Finding New Patients
The foundation of what makes a dental practice successful is having a steady patient roster, particularly if the patients are happy with their experience and will recommend you to others. Whether you’re a new practice or have years of experience, today’s environment is challenging for attracting new and retaining existing patients.
Several key factors can explain recent dental patient loss:
- Deaths from COVID-19 and ancillary causes due to overwhelmed hospitals
- Mass relocations from the remote work revolution
- Loss of employer-sponsored benefits due to layoffs and the Great Resignation, which typically includes dental coverage
- Dental practices don’t have enough support staff to support prior patient volumes
How can dentists rise to the challenge of getting more patients in light of these shifts?
Patients will switch dental providers due to relocation, but losing dental coverage because of a career change is a major factor. Accepting additional insurance providers will help attract and retain more patients.
Additionally, offering discounts for cash payments can generate steady income from patients who don’t have dental insurance. Plus, not having insurance to bill results in less administrative burden.
Location and coverage notwithstanding, patients will also switch dentists if they have a bad experience. They may be vocal about this experience on social media and other outlets.
Today’s patient uses the internet for just about everything. Having a modern, easy-to-use website demonstrates credibility and authority in the dentistry field, which is crucial for running a successful dental practice today. Your website should be optimized for search engines, particularly local searches.
A dental practice’s digital strategy should also include social media and patient reviews. Create and share content relating to dental problems that your practice can resolve, and offer patients incentives to provide positive reviews and refer other patients.
Staffing Shortages Will Continue
According to an American Dental Association (ADA) survey conducted during the height of the pandemic, 18.9% of all responding members closed their offices and were not seeing patients until mid-2021.
79% only saw emergency patients until COVID-19 waves lessened and vaccine rollouts increased. As of late 2021, 38% of all reporting dental practices had opened with far lower patient volume, while just 60.7% reported business had returned to normal patient volumes.
Subsequently, clinical and support staff employed by dental practices have experienced job loss or furloughs. Dentists found themselves unable to pay dental assistants, office managers, and other employees while their practices were closed, or providing emergency care only.
With these former employees moving onto new employers or even new careers entirely, they didn’t wait around to get their old jobs back once patient volume began to slowly approach pre-pandemic levels.
Now that dental practices are expected to be open and provide a full range of services, dentists’ offices are running with less clinical and support staff and experiencing high turnover rates. Smaller practices with one to three dentists are being impacted the hardest.
Finding quality staff is one of the biggest challenges of running a dental practice. It’s only compounded by the major risk of not being able to pay them long-term if patient billings and collections are insufficient to support their wages.
If patient volume isn’t where your practice needs it to be to justify having full-time and part-time employees, temporary staff can be introduced to your permanent team to make it through this adjustment period.
Flexible staffing arrangements with temp agencies ensure that your practice will always have the ideal headcount to make it through the number of appointments and procedures booked in a given month. Flexible staffing relieves your practice from the responsibility of paying for benefits, plus, temporary workers are only paid for the precise number of hours worked.
As more patients book dental appointments postponed due to the pandemic and related causes, temporary workers on-call can get your practice through the influx while ensuring your dental practice is still compliant with labor laws.
Teledentistry is on the Rise
Telemedicine went from a small niche, often for disabled patients and patients in rural areas, to a major and widely-accepted part of doctors’ practices with the onset of COVID-19. Technology-driven care is now becoming more routine in the dental field as well, and teledentistry is expected to grow as time goes on.
Teledentistry not only closes gaps for patients who may have health or transportation issues that prevent them from attending follow-up appointments, but it also provides a contactless patient setting that prevents unnecessary trips. If the patient just needs medication or has questions about their procedure or aftercare, teledentistry saves strain on both patients and staff.
Ultimately, teledentistry delivers better experiences for patients while increasing revenue for the dental practice. However, teledentistry has additional nuances that differ from telemedicine.
National and local security and privacy regulations are important issues that dental practices must navigate now if they want to successfully start and maintain a teledentistry program. Having the proper equipment on hand is also integral for teledentistry to take off.
Since most patients are expecting to see teledentistry options in the near future, this is a modern challenge that dentists face and must adapt to in 2022 and beyond.
Corrective and Cosmetic Treatments are Gaining Popularity
Dentistry isn’t solely about routine care and preventing dental problems from becoming severe. How a person’s teeth look can affect their career, social and romantic life, and overall confidence.
Cosmetic dentistry, such as teeth whitening, veneers, and Invisalign, has subsequently grown in popularity in recent years. People who are unhappy with how their teeth look are willing to pay for these procedures and feel that these solutions will make them happier and more confident.
Sometimes, these procedures are also used for corrective purposes, such as recovering from accidents and birth defects.
The dental field was estimated to be a $15.57 billion industry in 2020 and is predicted to double to over $30 billion by 2027. This is in large part due to cosmetic and corrective dentistry, as these procedures have become more well-known to the public as opposed to being a more obscure realm of the wealthy.
Dental practices that don’t make cosmetic treatments readily available will likely lose out to competitors. If your practice doesn’t offer corrective and cosmetic procedures, you could miss out on a significant revenue opportunity since the patients who desire these procedures are often willing and able to pay for them and prefer to work with dentists they know and trust.
Tech-Focused Treatments are Becoming a Norm
Teledentistry isn’t the only major technology-driven change in the dental field. In the 2020s and beyond, tech-focused treatments are becoming far more common.
In addition to providing better experiences for patients, tech-centric dental treatments also reduce the average dental practice overhead significantly while cutting down procedure times. This is especially true of dental fixtures like crowns and bridges since new technologies can create them much faster.
3D printing eliminates the long, laborious process of having to manually model dental fixtures. 3D printers for dental practices utilize resins and take far less time to make dentures, crowns, bridges, clear teeth aligners, and other dental fixtures, which is great for both the patients’ needs and cash flows.
Additionally, 3D printing makes implantology simpler and more accurate with the usage of virtual 3D plans that can be easily created on-screen and then transferred to the operative site.
While 3D printers require a financial investment and a learning curve, their long-term value is evident. Failure to adapt to 3D printing and other forms of “technology debt” could cause your practice to fall drastically behind other dentist offices.
Laser dentistry is a high-tech and less painful alternative to traditional procedures like fillings and gum tissue repair, which are invasive and often painful.
Laser dentistry is minimally invasive for both dental procedures and oral surgery, reducing the need for sutures and minimizing bleeding and discomfort. As a bonus, the patient heals quicker from laser procedures and has a reduced risk of post-op infection.
Lasers can even replace dental drills in some procedures, like tissue removal and reshaping and filling repairs.
Achieving Reliable and Sustainable Dental Practice Growth
As dental professionals continue to care for their patients during this time of transition and uncertainty, adaptation is essential to not just regain pre-pandemic cash flows but to surpass them. Embracing new technology and treatments, adapting to what patients want, and adjusting to staffing needs will support long-term practice growth.
The Dental CFO is a premier dental practice consulting team that tailors long-term financial strategies for dental practices. Contact us today to discuss how our talented team can help take your practice success to the next level.