2020 was a year like no other. While the COVID-19 pandemic upended business as usual, it also created opportunities across industries to reflect on our business practices, realign our values, and take stock of our goals. As our previous day-to-day was suddenly replaced by the “new normal” of pandemic shutdown, business closures, and home-bound patients, processes that had gone unquestioned for years required reassessment. While this created a host of challenges, it also ushered in an invaluable moment of growth.
In my practice, one of the many processes we reinvented as a response to pandemic shutdowns was our emergency care. I am proud to say that after navigating the upheaval of the pandemic’s early days, we have restructured our emergency care process to provide patients with more efficient, responsive support, via a platform that will prove useful long after the pandemic ends. I’m pleased to share with you the insights we’ve gained from this experience.
Our orthodontic practice, Diamond Braces, includes more than thirty offices across the New York City metropolitan area, serving thousands of patients of all ages with braces and Invisalign treatment. As you may recall, the Tri-State area shutdowns were swift and extensive, a response to the severity of the Covid-19 outbreak in the area. As a result, our offices closed, we were immediately forced to adapt to a new reality in which our patients could no longer come to the office for emergency care.
And adapt we did: over the course of a week, our in-house development team worked tirelessly to build a virtual care platform from scratch, complete with message portals, video calls, and a photo submission platform. We created an emergency platform to help patients communicate easily with their doctors, including texting and emailing. We quickly recorded informational videos to help patients solve issues at home. Invisalign patients were mailed aligners directly as home, while we waited for offices to reopen.
For those issues that required in-office assistance, we worked with the city to safely open a handful of emergency care offices, where our team was fully protected in PPE and we adhered to stringent health and safety protocols. Once offices began to reopen in June and July, we maintained strict safety protocols to keep patients and staff safe. Gradually, regular orthodontic care could resume – but the emergency platform remained. With an outpouring of positive responses, it was clear that offering virtual emergency care could benefit patients and staff alike, reducing the frequency of office visits and empowering patients to solve minor issues at home. We’ve now fully integrated our virtual platform and emergency services with our regular patient care. Below are a few insights I’ve gained from the transition to virtual emergency care.
Key Insight #1: Patient Empowerment is Key to Delivering At-Home Emergency Care
Helping patients to solve a minor orthodontic issue at home can save them time and money, reduce traffic in your office, and allow your team to spend more time on direct treatment. However, patients are less likely to resolve the issue at home if they lack clear communication from their doctor and dental team. At the same time, reliable information is key; the internet abounds with DIY remedies that can disrupt treatment and/or cause serious or permanent issues to the teeth.
To empower your patients to safely treat minor emergencies at home, providing clear, accessible information and offering personalized support is key. An emergency platform that includes texting and photo uploads will help your team assess the issue and offer recommendations. Your emergency care platform should be capable of assigning patient submissions to a specific team member, and response times should be as short as possible. Any messages received after business hours should be promptly attended to the following morning; consider contracting with an emergency hotline to provide round-the-clock support.
Key Insight #2: Combat Misinformation on YouTube with Good Information on YouTube
YouTube is often a patient’s go-to source for information on emergency solutions for dental emergencies. While the video website is awash in misinformation on how to treat dental issues at home, your office can counter that by creating your own channel with useful, expert information. When corresponding with patients about emergency issues, our team attaches links to our how-to videos, which explain how to handle a variety of orthodontic issues from home, and instructions on when to schedule a visit with the doctor. Whether or not an issue can be solved without an office visit, our video series helps keep patients informed and educates them on proper at-home orthodontic care.
The internet will always be full of misleading information; your office can help counter harmful info with expert, accessible advice from real professionals.
Key Insight #3: Your Emergency Platform Can Generate New Business
While minor orthodontic emergencies are a common part of the process no matter the practice, a patient with recurring issues may be frustrated by the quality of their orthodontic care and be open to switching providers. Meanwhile, dental emergencies requiring in-office care may compel individuals without a dental provider to schedule a visit for the first time. In this way, your emergency platform can be a conduit to bringing in new patients.
By offering emergency support at no cost, your practice may be able to assist patients at competing practices, which opens the door to a potential migration. Free emergency at-home dental support can also generate new business for your practice.
When considering offering no-cost support to non-patients, your team should evaluate whether this is a sustainable model for your business. Other virtual care options for your patients can and should be billed normally; as telehealth options ballooned during the pandemic, insurers swiftly followed with new guidelines and coding instructions to incorporate virtual care into existing payment structures. Emergency care can be offered for free or as a billed patient service; consider the structure that works best for your practice.
As we emerge from the pandemic and the vaccination campaign allows a slow return to normal, dental practices the world over are gradually finding their old rhythms. Rather than completely revert to pre-pandemic practices, however, this global upheaval offers us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rebuild and restructure our businesses.
Thanks to our adaptation of telehealth and virtual emergency care, Diamond Braces has emerged as a stronger player in the modern landscape of orthodontic providers. With careful assessment and intentional design, I believe all dental practices can evolve to provide emergency care that meets patients where they are, empowers them to solve issues at home, and generate new business.
Written by Dr. Oleg Drut
Dr. Drut is the founder, owner, and Chief Clinical Officer of Diamond Braces, an orthodontics practice with locations across New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. A graduate of NYU College of Dentistry, Dr. Drut opened a single practice in Hackensack in 2000 with the goal of making orthodontic care accessible and affordable for more families in his community. Since then, Diamond Braces has helped over 100,000 patients achieve healthy, beautiful smiles. Dr. Drut has 20 years of experience in management, office set-up, workflow supervision, and training and mentorship of new orthodontists. His work has been featured in The New York Times, Elle Magazine, Reader’s Digest, Star Tribune, and more. He lives in New Jersey with his wife and five children. He can be reached for comment at [email protected].
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