How to get patients back in the office after COVID-19 closures

Date: July 2020

Author: Louise Sinclair

After the sudden closure of dental practices to help reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, some patients may not feel confident returning to dental practices. In order to regain patient confidence and facilitate a quick return to work, it is critical that dentists have an effective reopening plan in place.

Define your objective and message

The primary objective of your re-opening plan will be to reschedule cancelled appointments and schedule new appointments to look after patients. Here are two things to focus on:

  1. Providing patients with facts (COVID-19)
  2. Letting patients know what your office is doing to keep them and everyone in the office safe

Proactively reach out to patients to reassure them of your commitment to keeping them safe. The American Dental Association’s (ADA) free Interim Return to Work Toolkit provides a Welcome Back letter template for practices to send to their patients. You can customize the letter to explain what a dental visit may look like upon reopening, along with your infection control, social distancing and patient screening protocols. You can also provide your patients with more details while you are screening them remotely.

With misinformation rife, it is important to make sure that your patients have the most up-to-date knowledge about COVID-19. Educating your patients with reliable information on risk, symptoms, and transmission may alleviate some anxiety around dental appointments and empower them with practical strategies to help ensure their safety.

Use a multi-channel approach

For your communication strategy to be successful, start to build reassurance and trust slowly. You can achieve this with a phased, multi-channel method. The following are some examples of effective communication channels, and how and when the dental team may use them to educate and reassure.

Mail and/or email campaigns: Start with a letter or email such as the one provided by the ADA, managing your patients’ expectations for reopening. You can supplement this with educational literature about COVID-19, or direct patients to your website and other reputable sources.

Social media: Post regular updates as you reopen and share the latest COVID-19 research and guidance. Infographics are especially well-received on social media, so consider presenting data in this easily digestible format. You can also use social media to engage your patients in conversation, assess their level of confidence about returning, and address any concerns head-on.

Website: Use your website to position your practice as a trusted source of COVID-19 information. Maintain a knowledge base featuring the most recent information and resources, and include patient-friendly details of how your practice is implementing recommendations.

Phone and video calls: Finally, call patients directly to reiterate practice changes and discuss any concerns. By this point, the goal is that your patients will be informed and confident enough to schedule their appointments.

Encourage a two-way conversation

As you communicate with your patients, build trust further by encouraging them to ask questions and seek clarification where needed. If you don’t have a patient liaison or communications manager, consider designating a member of staff to act as the point of contact. Agree on messaging and be consistent across all channels.