Dr Zuber Bagasi, of Synergy Dental Group, discusses how the practices navigated their way through the COVID-19 lockdown.
As a local dental group operating primarily out of the north west of the UK, the current COVID-19 outbreak has impacted us quite substantially as a mixed NHS and private group. We chose, however, not to give up in the face of a challenge such as this. We focused on strengthening the organisation during this phase of ‘hibernation’.
Like many other businesses, the current outbreak of coronavirus has had a huge impact on what dentists can do. As the government considered the nature of the dental profession a high risk during this pandemic, they forced the closure of many non-emergency facilities across England. This has since changed.
Dentists are required to be extremely close to patients – using equipment that could risk contamination – so the decision to force closure was necessary at the time. At Synergy Dental Group, we were left in a similar situation as many other groups. The only way for us to survive was to make immediate decisions about what the future looked like and how our services would be carried out.
We’d like to share how we responded to the pandemic to ensure Synergy could be maintained during the lockdown, and continue to provide our patients with the necessary dental healthcare and guidance.
Helping our community
We felt obliged to support our local community in whatever ways we could. As such, we set up all our clinics as urgent care hubs within Lancashire and Greater Manchester. Some sites continued with urgent minor oral surgery provisions as well as out of hours AAA emergencies.
We continued to support our local emergency dental services in Lancashire, and also non-registered urgent patients through e-consultations triaging or face-to-face at UDC hubs.
Many have also been on the hunt for face mask supplies to help protect themselves day to day. Due to stocks being sparse, the Synergy team worked tirelessly to source face masks, and we were lucky enough to find a very large supply to donate to those who need them the most.
We are also very aware there is a growing issue regarding PPE equipment for essential workers, including dentists. With recent government guidance, patients are advised to wear face masks outside. As such, we found thousands of face masks that work well enough for an average patient – but not for healthcare professionals.
These are known as FFP2 masks and we donated these on a first-come, first-served basis to those most in need. Not only did this make the public feel safe when they needed to go outside, but they work by preventing the virus from spreading further.
Guidance to our patients
Our priority is to keep the public, as well as our patients, informed. Overall, providing advice to patients lessens their anxieties as it was likely they were concerned about not being able to see their dentist during this period. We did this one of two ways.
First, we put huge emphasis on keeping social media active. Social media is a free, essential tool for reaching your audience. Being active on social media (whether that be Facebook, Instagram, TikTok or others) really helps with keeping our patients engaged with Synergy, their dental health, and reassuring them we’re still out there.
We regularly updated our social media channels with helpful tips and advice. This ranged anywhere from ways to keep teeth healthy during lockdown to troubleshooting dental issues which may be easily resolved. Social media also gives us a direct channel to our patients, so we were able to keep putting out essential updates regarding clinic closures and other important announcements.
We were able to keep our patients informed and calm by dedicating our time to an exclusively online service for consulting with people who needed immediate advice. We were limited on when we could see our patients one-to-one during this time. Therefore, it made sense to still be there for our patients as much as we possibly could.
We spent a lot of time brainstorming the idea and working with our in-house marketing and IT department. As a result, we were able to work out the logistics of setting up an online triage service. The required software was created, including the appropriate integrations to allow a seamless patient workflow.
Patients can communicate through our platform via video link having pre-arranged their appointment online. Our dental surgeons are scheduled to support these video consultations and a personalised treatment report is issued to each patient. This is supported with any e-consultation follow-ups.
This kind of teledentistry is gaining more and more traction worldwide. There are some very robust platforms available. However, we felt the need to launch and integrate teledentistry into a newly designed, integrated platform. This allowed us to take the best features from existing platforms and add some extra features of our own.
Support for our profession
With the challenges of sourcing the appropriate PPE, we too went through the roller coaster of ensuring PPE supplies are properly approved, certified, made available, affordable and are fit for purpose. Having been through that journey, we came across the good, the bad, and the very ugly!
Naturally, we organised the availability of this PPE, working alongside larger medical groups across the healthcare industry. As a buying group, we can source PPE at very affordable prices and ensure products are fit for purpose. Our main products are reusable washable gowns, FFP3 masks and Type 2R masks. Find out more here.
Our Plans for the Future
We all worked incredibly hard to pull together a plan of action during this time. Discussions have often been difficult and stressful. However, my team has done a fantastic job of capitalising on access to our patients through UDC hubs, social media channels, and utilising other online resources.
We have also been working extra hard on even more new developments behind the scenes. These will aim to help improve dental practices and assist associate dentists in developing a more secure future. We hope to share this with you all very soon.