Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are integral to the success of any organization but they have become even more critical during the present Corona Virus Pandemic. COVID-19 is extremely contagious and being new, there is not yet any natural immunity. As a result, we in the dental profession have to be extremely careful to not only protect ourselves and our team members, but we need to protect our patients as well.
To do so, we need to put into place clear SOPs that provide guidelines for the dental team on how to safely treat patients. This will allow the dental team to treat those patients that we need to see in order to keep our local emergency rooms available to treat pandemic patients.
COVID-19 specific SOPs will ensure safe and consistent treatment for every patient that comes into our offices. They will minimize the risk of infection for the team and other patients, especially risks associated with transmissions from asymptomatic carriers. Also, COVID-19 specific SOPs will minimize liability to the practice by providing evidence that consistent and accepted procedures were used for all patients.
All offices follow universal precautions, but because of the high rate of infection with COVID-19, these are not enough. We need to be able to screen patients before they come into the office. We do this by asking questions about their dental condition and their overall health to determine whether it is appropriate for them to be seen in the office setting.
We will also need to set office policy on how many patients at a time will be seen and how many people will be permitted in the waiting room in order to ensure social distancing. Many offices are asking patients to come alone, or else companions must make plans to stay in their cars during the course of treatment. Fortunately, the American Dental Association has excellent information on this (www.ada.org/InterimGuidance), including flow charts that can be used as reference materials as you formulate your SOPs.
Keep in mind that at a minimum your SOP needs to contain the following elements:
- The reason for the SOP (why do we need it?)
- The date of the SOP (when was it created?)
- The scope of the SOP (what does it cover?)
- The responsible party or parties (who is it directed to?)
- The actual steps of the procedure (how is it done?)
- The key elements of success (how is it evaluated)
Further information such as reference source (ADA, CDC) should also be included in any SOP that relates to COVID-19. If you are not currently using SOPs there are many examples available free online. Using an existing format can save you time. The best manuals in the market are customizable and easy to use. You can choose to use the format offered or you can simply utilize one of these versions as a guide to design your own template. Remember that consistency is key. Once you decide on a format, stick to it in order to cut down on confusion and increase compliance.
Keep in mind that having the SOPs in the office mean nothing if the team has not been trained in their proper use. Be sure to train your team members on your COVID-19 SOPs before you reopen your practice for business. Allow time for team members to ask questions and make sure you address their concerns. This training needs to be documented and every team member needs to understand the importance of consistency in following these policies before patients are treated.
In addition, you need to keep your SOPs simple. Do not make them overly complex or no one will truly understand them, let alone follow them. Have the team primarily responsible for each area come up with ideas that should be implemented, once they understand the objectives. For example, have the front desk come up with the best way to screen patients once they understand what they are screening for.
By putting these systems in place and seeing that they are consistently practiced, you will find that the workflow is more efficient and that your team will feel confident in their positions which will ultimately reduce the stress in the practice and allow everyone to get through these difficult times.
Written by Bryan Tim Marshall, DDS, MBA. Dr. Marshall has been a DSO entrepreneur for over 20 years. His extensive professional experience comprises an extraordinary journey that has given him a rare and privileged insider’s perspective into the evolution of the business of dentistry. From working as an associate to opening his own office, to building his first DSO into the largest fee for service multi-location group practice in Florida, he’s intimately familiar with all aspects of practice development. After he sold his first DSO to Heartland Dental Care, he founded a new group practice and merged as a founding partner with Dynamic Dental. At Dynamic, he became part of the executive team as Director of Business Development, responsible for acquisitional and operational assessments, underwriting, and due diligence. He then joined Blackford Dental as Director of Business Development and Chief Dental Officer, a role that he recently reprised at Birner Dental Management where he reduced doctor turnover from 70% to 35%. Mean DSOs, wobbly DSOs, successful DSOs, wannabe DSOs, he’s seen them all. Moreover, he’s survived the highs and lows associated with the life cycles of DSOs all over the country. So, go ahead, ask him. He’ll tell you. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Read Dr. Marshall’s other article here: Keys To Operational Success In A DSO – A Brief Overview
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