High-pitched drilling sounds, busy phone lines, nervous patients in the waiting room—the typical dental office isn’t always a relaxing, restful environment. Dentists have always had to deal with anxious patients, but during the pandemic, even patients who didn’t fear the dentist may have developed anxiety about returning. The prospect of operating at full capacity again may have you feeling anxious, too—whether about COVID-19 risks, or about ramping back up to a full volume of work.
How anxiety affects the workplace
Anxiety at work has many ill effects. It makes it harder to connect with others, whether patients or coworkers. It can distract us from getting our jobs done or make it difficult to focus on the task at hand. The physical symptoms of anxiety aren’t pleasant, either.
“Some 70% of dentists report anxiety, up from 40% of dentists prior to COVID-19,” says Brandi Hooker Evans, owner of dental consultancy Stellar Outcomes LLC. Hooker believes varying guidance on how dental practices should operate during the height of COVID-19 may have contributed to this increased anxiety. For example, she sees some dental hygienists who are now afraid to use an ultrasonic scaler—an essential tool for dental hygiene.
In addition to their own worries, dental practice employees are dealing with patients’ fears. At the best of times, 19% of Americans have moderate to severe dental phobia, according to the Journal of Dental Hygiene. But COVID-19 has also heightened patients’ worries about visiting the dentist. Patients with dental fears are less likely to get regular dental care or follow up with treatment plans. Anxious patients may take longer to treat, which slows down the schedule, affecting production and the experience of other patients.
How to overcome your own anxiety
Before you can help nervous patients relax, you must release any anxiety that you have. The best way to overcome a fear is to face it. “Have open, rational conversations with your team about any threats that COVID-19 still presents in your office and in your community. Then develop a plan for addressing the issues,” says Evans.
The steps dental practices have taken so far have worked: Although 21% of all Americans have had COVID-19, only 3% of dental hygienists have had the virus, largely because they are so well educated on infection control.
The best ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and any communicable disease are thorough hand washing and staying home when you are ill. “It may sound too easy,” Evans says, “but science shows us that these two simple steps are our best defense.”
How to help patients with anxiety
If patients have dental anxiety about returning after COVID, you can ease their worries by educating them about the steps you are taking to prevent infection. Communicate what you’re doing through signage at the office, via email, phone or text messaging prior to a patient’s appointment, and on your practice website and social media accounts. Lighthouse 360 helps facilitate this process with pre-designed email, text, phone and newsletter messages you can customize and automatically send to patients.
Enhance your infection control measures by using Lighthouse 360 to create a virtual waiting room. Patients receive a text before their appointment with a link to complete necessary patient forms right on their own phones—no need to touch a clipboard or shared device. You can customize the paperless patient registration forms to request the data your practice needs, including financial information, medical history and insurance information.
The day of their appointment, Lighthouse 360 can automatically send patients an ADA-recommended form so they can self-screen for COVID-19 symptoms. Use the two-way texting feature of Lighthouse to communicate with patients when they arrive and alert them when their chair is ready. After the appointment, Lighthouse 360’s online bill pay feature reduces contact and speeds up the payment process. Instead of waiting in the reception area to pay, patients can pay right on their phones.
By allowing patients to get in and out of the office quickly, automation solutions like Lighthouse 360 can help reduce anxiety—and make your life easier, too.
Looking for more strategies to improve and maintain mental health for yourself, your team and your patients? Lighthouse 360 is sponsoring Holly Anne Mitchell and Brandi Hooker Evans’ free 90-minute course, “Mental Hygiene,” Wednesday, June 30, 2021 at 4:30 PM Pacific/7:30 Eastern. Sign up now to reserve your (virtual) seat.