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Posted by: The Probe 20th April 2021
Across the UK, dental practices are being challenged by new guidance to continue operating successfully, while adapting to the restrictions imposed by the pandemic and inevitably limiting how many patients can be seen per day.
The outcome of this is less availability for dental appointments, which has in turn likely contributed to a rise in calls to the NHS 111 service[i] and increased activity through NHS Online. NHS Digital[ii] reported 5,236 call triages and 5,773 online journeys on 18th January 2021, which – although not at the peak of its usage – is still significantly higher than daily figures from before the pandemic. In dentistry, the GDC found[iii] that a third of people surveyed had a dental appointment cancelled or postponed during the first national lockdown when practices were forced to close. Perhaps even more worryingly, though the majority of people understood that emergency dental services were still available, over half of those who experienced pain or dental problems during lockdown chose to wait for the restrictions to end before seeking help. Many dentists are continuing to report last minute cancellations due to the coronavirus, with patients having to self-isolate or just not wanting to leave their houses at this uncertain time.
All of this demonstrates that careful supervision of the appointment diary is needed to ensure that your dental practice remains productive and that patients receive the care they need.
To help decrease the burden on the wider NHS service and enable you to manage short-term cancellations efficiently, creating a waiting list is key. This provides a way of prioritising patient needs, while also boosting practice efficiency. For example, when a patient needs an appointment, you may not be able to see them as soon as they would like. Regardless of whether they make an appointment or not, you can enrol them onto a waiting list. This means that when a last-minute cancellation is made, you have a preprepared list of patients who need to visit the most. You can instantly view and connect with these people to deliver an exceptional service and ensure your practice remains as viable as possible.
SMS text reminders
Of course, the ultimate goal is to reduce the number of short-notice cancellations in the first place. Communicating regularly with patients, keeping them informed of changes in the practice and reassuring them of their safety are all vital. The use of SMS can be particularly helpful to keep them up-to-date with what is happening and to remind them of upcoming appointments. Many practices are also utilising SMS to prepare patients for their arrival at the practice, letting them know when they should enter the premises and what they can expect. It’s a convenient, unintrusive method of communication that the vast majority of patients today appreciate.
Given that so many patients continue to work from home at this time, email messaging can be just as effective. Most people are likely in the habit of checking their inbox for general correspondence with an array of organisations, individuals and services, plus they can access the information at the most convenient time for them. Why not email your database and provide them with confidence to keep appointments wherever possible?
Keeping direct contact with patients to a minimum when they do visit the practice is important. The Department of Health and Social Care has confirmed that patients do not have to sign forms during a practice visit until at least 31 March 2021,[iv] helping to avoid cross contamination. Given the recent extension and development of various other restrictions, it is possible that this could be extended further too.
Despite signatures not needed, forms still need to be completed in the practice. Providing these forms to patients head of their appointment to complete at home has become the new standard.
Of course, all of this will take time and resources to implement and manage on a daily basis within the practice. At a time when practice efficiency is so important, Carestream Dental’s CS R4+ and Sensei Cloud practice management software can make life easier for every team. Both systems offer waiting list functionality to optimise the diary in case of last-minute cancellations, as well as integrated SMS messaging and email capabilities. In addition, CS R4+ offers Remote Forms for COVID-19 screening, medical history and FP17 documentation, which are competed by patients at home and then automatically imported to their R4+ patient file. In Sensei Cloud, patient forms now enable the practice to send a link directly to patients to complete the forms prior to their appointments.
Optimising the diary
Optimising the practice diary is the foundation of a productive and profitable business, but it also enables maximum patients to receive the care they need. Utilising your practice management software to encourage patient attendance and minimise any wasted surgery time is more important right now than ever before.
For more information, contact Carestream Dental on 0800 169 9692 or
For the latest news and updates, follow us on Twitter @CarestreamDentl
Carestream Dental, DPMS Regional Product Manager
Europe, Middle East & Africa
[i] NHS 11 call volumes increase be a third due to coronavirus. March 2020. https://www.pulsetoday.co.uk/news/urgent-care/nhs-111-call-volumes-increase-by-a-third-due-to-coronavirus/ [Accessed January 2021]
[iii] GDC. Access to dental services has been severely limited and will take time to recover. The impacts of COVID-19. https://www.gdc-uk.org/information-standards-guidance/covid-19/the-impacts-of-covid-19/limited-access-to-dental-services [Accessed January 2021]
[iv] Gov.uk. Suspension of patient signatures on prescription, dental and general ophthalmic services forms. Department of Health & Social Care. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/temporary-approval-to-suspend-the-need-for-signatures-on-prescriptions-dental-and-ophthalmic-forms/suspension-of-patient-signatures-on-prescription-dental-and-general-ophthalmic-services-forms [Accessed January 2021]