Flu season is here, and you don’t want it to catch you or your practice by surprise. As a practice manager, you’ll most definitely get a terrible headache when you’re short-staffed with a hectic schedule and everyone calls out sick.
The CDC recommends “people stay home for at least 24 hours after their fever is gone.” This could mean another day short-staffed when a staff member contracts the flu, and another potential headache for you. Be proactive this year and take steps to minimize the spread of the flu to you, your staff, and your patients.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Ensure your practice has enough PPE like masks, gloves, face shields, etc. Track your supplies inventory (most practices use paper forms, Excel spreadsheets, or even custom-designed databases) and get your reorder in early to make sure you’re not running out of essential supplies when you need them the most.
Even better, if your practice management software includes a supplies order workflow with supplier catalog management, quick reorder, and status queue. Ordering supplies and tracking delivery can become a breeze.
Minimize Unnecessary Interactions
Minimizing unnecessary patient-to-patient and staff-to-patient interactions can be a huge factor when trying to prevent the spread of the flu. Avoid unnecessary exposure and increase safety by reducing the amount of time patients share in common waiting areas.
You can do this by spreading out patient appointments to minimize overlap, or by using a practice management platform with a patient flow management tool (Lighting) that can give you real-time visibility into where patients are in their treatment process and how long they have been waiting at each stage.
A practice management software that supports social distancing workflows, where patients are instructed (via encrypted, automated communications) to notify the office when they arrive, and then wait in their cars until invited to come in is best.
To minimize staff-to-staff interactions, it is best if your practice management platform includes an instant messenger feature that your staff can use to communicate discretely from their work areas without having to physically move or pass post-it notes that can spread germs around the office.
Some advanced practice management platforms can automatically notify the provider when a patient is prepped by the assistant and ready to be seen through discrete messages delivered to their mobile phone via SMS, iWatch, Google Watch, etc.
Other notable features that minimize the interaction between your staff and patients can include the use of a patient self-check-in kiosk placed in your reception area, the ability for your patients to check in from their mobile phones, and the ability for your patients to make payments electronically from a secure patient portal where they can see their charges, insurance claims, payments, balance due, and more.
Enhance Cleaning and Disinfection
Maintaining a clean and sanitary environment is always essential in a dental practice, but it’s especially critical during flu season. Increase the frequency of cleaning and disinfection for all surfaces.
Consider reducing the amount of shared technology in the office, especially shared computers with keyboards and mice that can collect germs in difficult-to-clean places, like between keys.
Using disposable keyboard skins can help, however, they can add to the cost of operating your practice if a new keyboard skin is necessary for each patient seen. As for mice, the risk is lower since they are smaller, but it is still good practice to require your staff to wear gloves when operating these shared computers with keyboards and mice.
Another solution could be to consider switching to a practice management system designed for wireless tablets and mobility, where each staff member can have their own wireless tablet and move around the office freely without sharing computers with hard-to-disinfect keyboards and mice. The additional benefit of such a system is that it will free up a considerable amount of space in your clinical (operatory) area currently taken up by bulky computers, keyboards, mice, stands, and display monitors. Imagine how much cleaner, aesthetically pleasing, and functional your office will be – all while minimizing the sharing of germs.
Implement a screening process for patients before their appointments, and reschedule all appointments that do not pass your screening criteria. Your screening checklist can include questions about flu-like symptoms, recent travel to flu-prone areas, and vaccination status.
Some advanced practice management platforms can be programmed to send your custom screening checklist straight to your patients’ smartphones before they arrive, and then the receptionist can decide to check the patient in or reschedule the appointment based on how results, all within the check-in workflow.
Vaccination for Staff
One of the most effective ways to protect your dental practice from the flu is by ensuring that all your staff is vaccinated. Encourage everyone, from dentists and hygienists to receptionists and assistants, to get seasonal flu shots. Consider organizing a vaccination clinic within your practice to make it convenient for your team to receive their vaccinations.
Educate Staff on Hygiene Practices
In addition to vaccination, emphasize and refresh the importance of good hygiene practices among your staff. Frequent handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is essential, as well as using hand sanitizers when soap and water are not readily available. Encourage staff to avoid touching their face, especially their eyes, nose, and mouth, as this is one-way flu viruses can enter the body.
Preparing your dental practice for flu season entails a combination of vaccinations, hygiene practices, using PPE, and patient screening – most of which can be augmented by the right technology tools. Remember that flu season can vary in intensity each year, so stay informed about the latest flu developments and adjust your protocols accordingly for the health and well-being of everyone in your dental practice.
Good luck and stay healthy everyone!