Practicing Dentistry During COVID-19

The past few weeks have been bizarre for most people. Social distancing and stay-at-home guidelines set forth by local and state governments to prevent the spread of coronavirus and flatten the curve, have brought about a grim reality to our everyday lives.

The economy has been disrupted in ways no one ever thought possible just a few months ago, threatening the livelihood of millions of people in America and around the world. Consumers have drastically changed their purchasing habits affecting businesses, particularly those that didn't have an online outlet nor an online marketing strategy in place.

Small business owners have been hit harder than most, temporarily closing for business and furloughing or firing their staff due to the circumstances.

Dental practices are no exception. A survey conducted by the British Dental Association in early April shows that 71.5% of practices in the UK are on the brink of financial collapse if the current situation lasts longer than three months, with 20% reporting that they can only survive one month.

The industry outlook in America is probably similar to that of their UK colleagues. State government and dental associations' guidance called for dentists to close their practices or stay open only for emergency procedures. This has led to a significant drop in appointments and revenue, jeopardizing their survival.

While in early April the American Dental Association (ADA) reported some interesting facts about the impact that coronavirus has had on dental practices across the US, it didn't mention anything about the decisions dentists had made regarding their marketing. We knew we wouldn't rally as many dentists as the ADA did (20,000+), but that didn't stop us from reaching out to dentists and asking them the questions the ADA missed.

Here we present our findings, both as an infographic and as an article where we lay out in more detail all the responses we got and the conclusions that we've drawn from this Practicing Dentistry During COVID-19 survey results.

About The Survey Respondents

Practicing Dentistry During COVID-19 About Our Respondents

We contacted 3,957 dentists via email and asked them to take part in the survey and offered to send them a copy of the COVID-19 Survival Guide For Dental Practices as a token of our appreciation.

About 10% of the dentists we contacted politely declined to take part in the survey. A little less than half of them visited our survey page and 357 took the leap. They hail from all 50 States and the two most populous Provinces in Canada: Ontario and Québec.

All surveys were completed between April 10 and April 26, 2020.

We first wanted to gather some information about our respondents and thus we asked them about their dental specialty and their practice size with regards dentists and non-dental staff employed. This is what we found:

  • Most survey respondents reported practicing General Dentistry (79,1%), followed in the distance by Pediatric Dentists (6.7%) and Orthodontists (3.9%).
  • 54.1% of dental practices surveyed employ one dentist, 25.8% employ two dentists and 8.7% employ three dentists.
  • 41.2% of dental practices surveyed employ up to 5 non-dental staff, while 38.9% employ from 6 to 10 non-dental staff.

About The Operational Decisiones They've Taken

Practicing Dentistry During COVID-19 About Operational Decision

Next we wanted to know what they decided about practicing dentistry during this pandemic. At first, the guidances issued by state authorities had left some leeway for dentists to decide whether to remain open for business or not, but we still wanted to see what dentists had done on the subject.

  • 77.3% of dental practice owners surveyed were opening their practices only for emergency procedures, while the remaining 22.7% closed their practices temporarily.
  • 42.3% of dental practice owners reported furloughing all their staff while 36.1% reported furloughing most of their staff. 
  • Furthermore, 13.2% said they furloughed their staff with partial salary, while 5.9% reported firing all their staff and 2.5% said they continued paying their staff their full salaries.

About The Business Decisions They Have Taken

Practicing Dentistry During COVID-19 About Business Decision

Next, we wanted to find out what decisions they've made regarding their marketing. From a previous ADA survey we knew that over 90% of dental practices in the US had reported seeing fewer than 25% of the patients they used to see before the pandemic.

That was only logical because the fear of becoming infected prompts people to practice social distancing and staying at home. Add to that the guidelines issued by local and state governments nationwide and the temporary closure of dental practices, and as a result you get fewer patients visiting their dentists.

This in turn has resulted in dental clinics cutting down on expenses, marketing being one of them. 

  • 88.2% of dental practices surveyed reported allocating up to $2,500 per month for marketing during COVID-19, compared to 62.8% before, an increase of 25.4 percentage points.
  • 5.8% of dental practices said they budgeted anywhere from $2.501 to $5.000 per month for marketing expenses during the pandemic, down from 22.8% before the pandemic. That's a 17 percentage point decrease.
  • Before the outbreak, 62.3% of dental practices polled reported posting to social media as the marketing tactic they employed the most. That number dropped to 52.3% during the pandemic.
  • Print Media Advertising is the marketing tactic that has been dropped the most by dental practices polled, with a 85.7% drop.
  • Overall, online marketing tactics have been dropped as well, though not as much as print media. Facebook Ads saw a 36.3% in the number of dental practices that were implemente this tactic, followed closely by Online Reputation Management (41.6%), Google Ads (45.5%), and SEO (58.4%).

About Life After COVID-19

Practicing Dentistry During COVID-19 About The Future

Last, we wanted to know what they think the future will look like after COVID-19. Though we know nobody has a crystal ball to look into the future, people make decisions based upon the expectations they have about their future and thus we thought it would be a good idea to find out whether our respondents believe things will go back to normail or not.

We also asked them how long they think the virus will stick around disrupting our world and what changes will this bring to the field of dentistry.

  • Only 27.8% of dentists polled believe life will go back to the way it was before the coronavirus outbreak. That leaves an overwhelming majority of respondents, 72.2%, believing life will change once this is over.
  • On average, respondents expect this pandemic to last around a year, with 31.4% expecting it to last between 6 to 12 months and 29.7% believing it will be around for 12 to 18 months.
  • Finally, as to the changes they expect to see in their everyday practice, respondents mentioned the following three: longer appointment times, stricter hygiene protocols, and enhanced PPE for dentists and non-dental staff.

Our Conclusion

Practicing Dentistry During COVID-19 Our Conclusion

If we're allowed to make a comparison, this situation we're all living through is like the aftermath of an accident. We'll use Yesterday's opening sequence, the one where the protagonist, Jack Malik, is riding his bike on the way home late at night. He notices that some lights are going out, but thinks it's no big deal.

Suddenly, what didn't seem like a big deal is turning into a huge deal and all lights are out. It's dark, he can't see a thing and boom, gets hit by a bus. He never expected any of that.

Likewise, none of us ever expected any of this. But it's happening. And so we start making small adjustments that will help us get through this in the short term. But since we don't know for sure how long it's going to be, maybe making long-term decisions doesn't make much sense.

That's how we see this is all playing out for small business owners everywhere, and for dental practice owners who responded to our survey.

They got hit by a bus coming out of nowhere: coronavirus. And once they came to their senses they started making those decisiones that made the most sense. They cut back on expenses, marketing being one of them.

Only that can't last long. In case this pandemic lasts longer than we all want, it's difficult to see how businesses will attract clients withouth actively marketing to them. So, cutting back on their marketing expenses is a sensible move if they're doing it as a way to regroup and assess the situation. But if they're doing it as a permanent move, then chances are they will be left behind by those who double down on their promotional efforts.

We are walking on foreign land here and we're not sure how consumers will behave during this pandemic. That uncertainty calls for a more decisive approach towards patient acquisition.

So whatever you decide to do, make sure you step up on your marketing efforts. Ideally, you should be investing in Facebook and Google Ads, because they are usually the most effective for of advertising out there and yield results fast. If you are not in a hurry, then SEO, blogging and social media, to name a few, can be an option.

In summary, don't stand still. Promote your brand. Market your dental practice. Reach out to your existing and potential patients. And make sure you are strategic about it.

This pandemic will soon be behind us. In the meantime, stay safe.

Before we forget, the infographic below sums up nicely everything our respondents answered in the survey and helps you understand why they made certain decisions.

Practicing Dentistry During COVID-19 | Survey results and analysis |

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