Looking to a Brighter Future Ahead
America is strong, our people are good, and our economic base is solid. We will weather this storm.
What will your practice look like by summer? Chances are things will be better than in 2020, but not the same as before the pandemic. Many factors, including the prevalence of COVID-19, approval of COVID vaccines, the economy, sociopolitical climate, and governmental regulations will effect how dentistry is practiced in the months and years ahead.
A lot depends on the status of the pandemic and impact — and availability — of COVID vaccines. As immunization takes place on a more widespread basis, it can be assumed a significant number of patients will be vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2. However, due to limited supplies and the unwillingness of some to receive the vaccine, herd immunity is unlikely to be achieved in the immediate future. Given human nature, coupled with fatigue over the pandemic and associated restrictions, viral transmission and superspreader events are likely to continue. It can also be assumed that government mandates imposed during the pandemic will persist. This includes regulations and guidance on the use of personal protective equipment, testing, and office space modifications — all of which are costly and reduce the number of patients that can be seen in a day.
AMERICA IS STRONG, OUR PEOPLE ARE GOOD, AND OUR ECONOMIC BASE IS SOLID. WE WILL WEATHER THIS STORM.
On the positive side, the rollout of the vaccine and faster, less expensive testing will help the dental profession return to some (albeit remote) semblance of pre-COVID practice. At the same time, increased knowledge of the disease process will further reduce morbidity and mortality.
Besides the ongoing effects of the pandemic, additional developments — including the economy, civil unrest, and a new presidential administration — will shape our personal and professional lives. As a result of these forces and more, dental practices will continue to face hard times — and some will be forced to declare bankruptcy. Third parties will take advantage by buying up practices and increasing the number of offices operating under the dental service organization (DSO) model. For others, it may be necessary to reduce staff and look more closely at joining a group practice. Solo practitioners may lose patients to DSO offices, which, due to economies of scale, can work more efficiently and may charge lower fees.
Another shaping factor is the trend to make dentistry more of a business than a profession. A business concentrates on the bottom line; a profession puts the patient first. Care must be taken that when cost cutting is necessary, treatment standards aren’t compromised as well.
While it is certain major changes will continue in dentistry, society, and how we live, not all will be negative. America is strong, our people are good, and our economic base is solid. We will weather this storm.
Until some of the major shocks ameliorate, Americans need to be flexible. Oral health professionals can take advantage of the isolation and extra time created by the pandemic. Online courses abound and offer the chance to learn new techniques and procedures that will make our practices more profitable and safer. Use the time wisely.
Thomas G. Wilson Jr., DDS
Editor in Chief
From Decisions in Dentistry. January 2021;7(1): 4.