How the Coronavirus outbreak can affect your dental practice
The outbreak of the Coronavirus around the world is unprecedented, as is the response from federal, state and local government authorities. The situation is changing rapidly with schools districts and colleges closing across the U.S., international travel being limited in certain areas, and businesses experiencing supply chain interruption. We can anticipate that employers will experience higher than average levels of employee absenteeism as staff find themselves needing to stay home with children who can no longer go to school or day care. And we can project that there will be economic ramifications across many industries, not just the health care industry. It is time to review your business continuity plan and anticipate the need to be flexible in the upcoming days and weeks. Communicating your business continuity plan to your staff is critical as well. As higher numbers of employees are forced to stay home, make sure that you have an adequate system in place for communicating with your entire staff regardless of whether they are on premises or not.
Developing a Business Continuity Plan
- Plan ahead for potential supply chain interruption by researching alternative suppliers, prioritizing use of supplies to avoid shortages and planning for longer than average delivery time frames. Personal Protective Equipment may become harder obtain, due to an increase in demand. The CDC has advised that plans for surge manufacturing globally of key supplies such as N95 respirators and facemasks are currently underway. Check the CDC website for strategies for optimizing the use of your supply of disposable N95 respirators during the COVID-19 outbreak.
- Where possible, plan to create a work-from-home option for employees, particularly your non-clinical staff.
- Create more, shorter work-shifts to allow greater flexibility for staff who need to stay at home to care for family members. Remember that schools and day care centers are closing across the country, creating child care complications
- Cross train your employees ahead of time on critical functions, particularly with regarding to computer functions and billing. Medical skills can’t be duplicated, but you can cross train on critical IT functions, answering phones, scheduling software and billing software. Duplication of skills and information is important during a time when you may experience higher than normal absenteeism.
- Develop a clear way to continue to communicate with all employees if your offices are closed
- Consider reducing business hours as an alternative to closing completely. Make sure any revisions to your operating hours are clearly posted for patients and clearly communicated to employees. Of course, be sure to follow state and local guidelines regarding whether or not it is appropriate to keep your office open in your town/county. Stay up to date. Governors of each state are updating their guidelines regarding closing businesses on a daily basis. Check your state.gov website.
- Offer online solutions to your employees when possible including web meetings, conference calls and video conferencing
- Postpone non-essential purchases
- Test your business continuity plan before you need to implement it. Pay particular attention to testing web based functions, remote phone and internet connections and your employee communication plan. There are cyber-security issues to consider when allowing staff to use personal internet connections at home. Allowing staff to use laptops or other portable devices that contain any patient information poses a potential cyber risk as well. Discuss these changes in your cyber security risk profile with your IT team or IT service provider to make sure that appropriate safety controls are in place. The most common data-breaches occur on unsecured laptops, lost flash drives, and unsecured internet/wi-fi connections.
Stay Up to Date
As always, remember that social media is not a reliable source of accurate information. There will be a lot of misinformation floating around the internet and making its way into our social media feeds. Stay up to date on the latest Coronavirus Disease information from the health professionals at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus and OSHA.gov. For information specific to dentistry, please read through the information published online by the ADA and the AGD. Additionally, check your state.gov website for current information for your state, as this information is changing daily.