By Dr. Tara Hardin
Dr. Tara Hardin says, “Prepare now for our comeback so that you can be more organized and focused. At the same time, be agile and adaptive to new guidelines and ways of thinking. Watch carefully and let's learn together as the world unfolds." Here is what she did to make her practice stronger and more financially secure.
I officially shut down my practice on Monday March 16th, the same day the ADA issued its recommendations for dental practices. It’s hard to believe, as I write this, how naïve I initially was on the impact this epidemic would have on my team, our patients, and the business. I don’t think any of us had a clear idea as to the extent of the changes that would take place. Certainly, I didn’t.
My initial plan was to push the reset button and take on projects that had been put on the back burner. I told my team we would spend the next two days, cleaning and reorganizing what I had considered to be a neat office, in preparation for a comeback on April 6, a mere two weeks away. We opened every drawer and with a minimalist mentality emptied out anything we weren’t using anymore. Like a sergeant in the military, I went through the discard pile and ultimately threw away 99% of it. It was a great feeling of accomplishment.
At the end of the second day, I decided we would review and refresh our phone training skills since everyone on my team answers the phone. I had provided the team with detailed new-patient intake sheets that we meticulously followed for each call, or so I thought. The role-playing training session was an eye opener for me, and a great learning opportunity for everyone on the team. If you don’t already record your calls, or haven’t listened to your recorded calls lately, then you might want to start.
With my team now at home, the chairs in my reception area and operatory empty, and a statewide lockdown eminent, life as I knew it was changing so quickly. What do you do in a time of crisis? For me, this was no time for feeding into the doom and gloom frenzy. I was determined to keep a positive outlook and seek out opportunities that focused on readying my practice, my team, and my patients for the day we would reopen. To keep myself mentally sharp and focused, I structured my days with a daily workout routine and outlined goals and action items that must be accomplished each day.
That first day, I focused on my financial stability as a small business. I called my bookkeeper for a list of recurring payments that needed to be cancelled such as supplies on order, our nightly cleaning and plant watering services, all unnecessary expenses until we are operational again. For the various technologies used in the practice, I contacted the manufacturers or accessed their web sites for the shut down protocols they recommend following.
I contacted my CPA, attorney, and bank for advice on consolidating my loans and the current interest rates. The rates were better than what I had so I requested a rate modification and a consolidated loan. I also called Charles Schwab to make sure my pledged asset line of credit was in place for quick access to cash. Then I focused on companies that might consider payment deferrals. I typically pay my American Express bill off every month but called to see if they would consider an extension, which they granted for a minimum of 60 days. I also evaluated my disability insurance plan and applied for additional coverage for the next five years.
Now I could focus on what I could do for my team, my patients and myself to help us all be better prepared for the day the practice reopened. I created a list of action and “to-do” items. First and foremost, I wanted to remain in touch with my dental team to keep them engaged. I had my first Zoom meeting a few weeks ago and it was great. We all miss seeing each other and focused our attention on what we all could do now for a successful comeback and planned another meeting for the following week. Also, I sent each of my team members a gift so they knew how much I appreciated them.
I also began participating in bi-weekly Zoom meetings with my dental consultant. Their professional advice and mentorship is giving me the inspiration to work on my business and push forward even though I won’t see the results for months. And, to sharpen my clinical and business management skills I have taken advantage of complimentary CE programs and devote an hour or two per week to CE learning.
Now was the perfect time also to re-evaluate my website and get on the phone with my website developer. Supplying them with fresh content from frequently-asked-questions to blogs, re-doing my photo galleries, and evaluating the load speed of the site were at the top of my to-do list. I also was encouraged by my IT company to evaluate my cyber security and backup program and advise my team about bogus Zoom meetings and phishing emails. These are especially dangerous when the team is working from home while logged into the practice email.
I also felt it was very important to stay connected to my patients, so I began calling them to check in and see how they were doing. For my elderly patients, I sent hand-written cards to remind them we are still here and hoped they were staying healthy and safe. I also looked into teledentistry to determine if this was a practical avenue to pursue to keep in touch with patients who have dental needs. Although there are now ADA codes for teledentistry, what we do not know is the amount dental insurance companies are willing to pay. However, it has been suggested to charge what you would for a routine exam. For a synchronous, real-time patient consultation the ADA code is D9995. ADA code D9996 is used for patient information that is received and stored and then forwarded to the dentist for subsequent review. Claims for teledentistry must include two separate codes. Either the D9995 or D9996 code must be accompanied by the ADA D0140 code for payment. Make sure you contact your malpractice insurance carrier about using teledentistry for potentially consulting with out-of-state patients. Many dentists are also utilizing Zoom for their patient virtual visits.
Whatever you do, I encourage you to use this time wisely, however difficult. It is a perfect time to clear your head, analyze your business, and take the steps necessary to make your practice stronger, more resilient and safer for you, your team and your patients. We are all in this together. The need for dental skills services will never cease to exist. What may change is how we approach our practice in the future, how we better serve our patients’ needs, and how resilient we can be with the mayhem that currently surrounds us.
Be well and be safe everyone! Let’s get back to our passion.
About Dr. Tara Hardin
Dr. Hardin graduated from Furman University with a Bachelor of Science Degree in 1996 where she played college tennis for the Lady Paladins for four years. She then attended Ohio State University where she received her Doctorate of Dental Surgery in 2000.
Dr. Hardin is a Las Vegas Institute Fellow, granted after a minimum of 278 hours of advanced education and experience in aesthetics, physiologic science, and a comprehensive practical examination. In 2019, she became the 82nd Accredited Fellow of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry.
In addition to her dental training, Dr. Tara Hardin has a passion for business training. She has attended the executive program at Aileron in Dayton, Ohio. In December of 2019, she graduated from the Goldman Sachs 10,000 small businesses program at Babson college in Boston, Massachusetts.
Hundreds of hours of continuing education each year keep Dr. Tara Hardin and her team among an elite class of dentists who provide exceptional esthetic and restorative dentistry. She is an accredited member of the Academy of General Dentistry, the American Dental Association, Ohio Dental Association, Cincinnati Dental Society, and several sleep organizations. She devotes countless hours of continuing education on facial esthetics, cosmetic dentistry, TMJ therapy, and sleep apnea.
When Dr. Tara Hardin is away from the office she enjoys spending time with her husband Sean, and their children, Lillian, Carson, and Kayla. They all spend countless hours on the tennis courts together.
The views, opinions and advice expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policies or positions of Ivoclar Vivadent. Assumptions, positions and interpretations of any laws or government orders provided in this blog are not reflective of any entity other than the author, and the views expressed here are subject to change, revision and rethinking at any time. Furthermore, the impact of Covid-19 and the measures taken by the local, state and federal governments is changing on a daily or hourly basis. We counsel each reader of this blog to use these posts as a starting point for developing strategies for their own practices, but please seek independent counsel and advise from the authorities and advisors in your region.