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When COVID-19 Impacts Your Dental Practice

Until there’s a vaccine, the possibility of contacting COVID-19 remains a risk for everybody. Already, many dental practices have either had a team member or a patient who was exposed to the disease.

Linda Harvey, RDH, MS, is one of the country’s leading experts in compliance and risk management. She is a Healthcare Risk Manager, author, and has more than 30 years of experience in providing quality assurance and patient safety perspectives for dental healthcare professionals and state licensing boards.

She talked to Patient Prism CEO Amol Nirgudkar about how the conversation around the coronavirus has changed since March, and what dentists and teams need to know so they can be ready for the day when their practice may be directly impacted by this infection.

What to do if a Team Member Tests Positive for COVID-19

As we were all learning about this disease and how it spreads, the conversation focused mostly on how to avoid exposure through enhanced personal protective equipment such as N95 respirator masks. For tips on how to stay safe in your dental practice, click here to download Patient Prism’s free guide. You can also watch Linda’s video on best practices by clicking here.

Now the conversation has turned to crisis counseling because many dental practices have had a patient or a team member either diagnosed with COVID or exposed to it.

In June, there was a story about a South Carolina practice where four team members all contracted the virus. They were friends who would take one car to go to lunch together and had also gone on a girls’ trip to the beach. Even though the team members may have contracted the virus through social activities and not at work, the dental practice still had to shut down for two weeks because it didn’t have enough healthy team members to see patients.

So what do you do if a dental team member tests positive for COVID-19?

  • Consult with an HR specialist to determine the best way to proceed including applicable laws regarding paid time off.
  • The infected team member should quarantine at home until they test negative and are cleared to return to work.
  • Let the team know they should be self-monitoring for symptoms. They may want to take their temperature at least three times a day instead of the twice-daily check the CDC recommends, for example.
  • Recommend the team seek testing and to relay the test results.
  • Reduce fear and anxiety by reminding the team of the safety protocols and PPE that are in place to reduce the spread of infection.
  • Identify any patients who may have had contact with the COVID-19 positive team member to determine if they have symptoms. Recommend they self-quarantine for 14 days and to notify their physician if symptoms develop.
  • Call your local health department to report the positive COVID-19 test and provide the names of those people who may be impacted so the health department can perform contact tracing.

For more guidance from the ADA, click here.

What to do if a Patient Tests Positive for COVID-19

The first thing to do is avoid panicking, said Linda Harvey. Start with the facts and identify who was with the patient and for how long. The CDC defines a prolonged exposure as 15 minutes or longer without the proper PPE.  If clinical team members are wearing a respirator mask, face shield, gloves, and a jacket or gown, then the person should be protected from the patient, explained Linda.

At all other times, the patient should be wearing a mask, as should all of the other team members including receptionists and treatment coordinators. Studies show wearing a mask and staying six feet apart whenever possible significantly reduces the risk of infection.

The dental practice should contact the local health department to report the exposure, and have any team members who came into contact with the patient self-monitor for symptoms.

Contract Tracing in a Dental Practice

COVID-19 has changed the way dental practices and medical practices communicate with patients.

“I was on a webinar recently and they were recommending medical practices hire a full-time contact tracer,” said Linda Harvey. “That’s a little challenging in dentistry because we may not have the resources or funds for this type of role. But look at your automated systems. Can you send out a text message or email a few days after an appointment to let them know you have a contact tracing program in place to optimize everybody’s health and safety? That keeps you top of mind with the patient so if they do become COVID positive, they remember to get back to you.”

It’s better to be proactive and have a plan in place for communicating with your patients, rather than reactive, said Linda.

New Ways to Build Trust with Patients

So many people are nervous about going to the dentist anyways, and a smile can go a long way to making them feel comfortable. It can be harder to put them at ease when you’re suited up in layers of PPE and they can only see your eyes and hear your voice.

Here are some ideas that Linda shared to make your dental patients feel comfortable:

  • Attach a laminated picture of you on your gown so your patients know what you look like.
  • Keep the tone of your voice reassuring and communicate clearly.
  • Speak a little more slowly since they can’t read your lips.
  • Avoid sarcasm since patients can’t see your facial expression to know that you are joking.
  • Call the patient the day before the visit to introduce yourself and say how much you’re looking forward to meeting them. That will build rapport and create a positive first impression, two items that your smile used to be able to accomplish.

Some pediatric dental team members have decorated their face shields and posted the pictures online. This can be a cute way to make younger patients relax and laugh, as long as all of the proper disinfectant measures are taken.

Additional Resources

Following the proper safeguards not only protect your team members and your patients. It also protects your reputation in the community. For more information, visit www.lindaharvey.net.

Guide: Staying Safe in the Dental Practice: Guidance on everything from what the CDC recommends to how to acquire PPE to whether you should pass along the cost to patients.

Comeback Strategies for Dental Practices

ADA: Return to Work Interim Guidance Toolkit and ADA.org/virus

For more interviews with experts, training resources, and guides, visit Academy.PatientPrism.com.

More people than ever will have questions about safety, affordable treatment options, and what’s covered by their insurance plans post-COVID. Visit PatientPrism.com/Overview to find out how we can help your team convert more callers into booked appointments.

About this Industry Leader:

Linda Harvey - Profile Pic

Linda Harvey

Healthcare Risk Management and Compliance Expert

As a licensed Healthcare Risk Manager and veteran dental professional, Linda teaches dentists and their teams how to protect their patients, practices and themselves. Linda speaks and consults nationally in the areas of risk management, regulatory compliance, remediation courses and dental record audits. She draws from real-world experience having worked with offices that have undergone HIPAA, OSHA and Board of Dentistry audits. Attorneys, insurers and consultants across the country place their trust in Linda and her team of credentialed compliance consultants. She is the founder and President of two compliance-related companies, The Linda Harvey Group and The Institute for Dental Compliance and Risk Management.

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