By Steve Roberts, Vyne Dental president
Last year presented unprecedented circumstances for the dental industry – from the threat of a global pandemic to a complete shutdown, and a staggering reopening approach across the country, dental practices have faced many challenges. Figuring out how to triage patients without a face-to-face option, bring in revenue, and maintain staffing levels are just some of the issues practices experienced.
What was the real impact of 2020 on practices, and how did this affect their views headed into the new year? We wanted to find out directly from dental practices.
Vyne Dental commissioned a survey of 400 of our clients from across the U.S. in November and December 2020. Seventy-seven percent of our respondents were from solo dental practices and 23% were from group dental practices.
The survey was called the State of the Dental Industry study, and it focused on just that – obtaining sentiments from real practice leaders in five key focus areas: Impact of 2020, the industry, hiring, technology, and overall business outlook for 2021. Here’s a look at what we found.
Impact of 2020
The greatest impact of the pandemic on dental practices was financials at 42%. Patient volume followed at 32%, and nearly half of respondents (47%) had to shift their investment priorities in 2020.
We know teledentistry services helped some practices triage patients in 2020, but to what degree was this service implemented? Seventy-two percent of dental practices surveyed did not offer teledentistry in 2020. Twenty-three percent of practices are considering it in 2021, and 62% said they would not offer the service in 2021.
You can’t run a dental practice without patients, and we wanted to know more about patients’ views on resuming dental services in 2021. Thirty percent of practice leaders said their patients are actively seeking treatment or services; 21% said patients are ready to resume treatment or services; 56% are willing to resume if safety protocols are in place, and 8% of patients will not resume treatment or services until a COVID-19 vaccine is available.
We heard many stories of severe business impacts because of COVID-19 throughout the second half of 2020. How did dental practices fare? As a result of the pandemic, a small percentage of practice leaders may consider selling in 2021 (8%). Four percent may consider a DSO affiliation and 3% may consider merging with another practice. Just under 1% said they are considering a local hospital or health system affiliation. Most practices (84%) are considering “other” changes in 2021. When asked to specify, responses included dropping in-network status with all insurance providers, expanding their services portfolio, and offering in-house patient payment plans.
Hiring and the economy
Based on current economic conditions and patient demand, 46% of practices said they are not planning to hire additional staff in 2021. Practices are also not planning to adjust current staffers’ schedules. In fact, 87% said that based on current conditions, they are not planning to turn part-time staff into full-time staff, or vice versa.
When it comes to perspectives on whether recruitment may be challenging for practices in 2021, the responses were split. Forty-eight percent said they felt it would be challenging, and 51% said they did not think it would be challenging.
Automated technology has enabled the industry to be more resilient in uncertain times. The pandemic increased the demand for technology options that allowed them to provide some level of care to patients when face-to-face was not an option, provide remote check-in service for in-person appointments, and allowed staff to work from home and complete tasks like submit claims to support critical incoming revenue.
The top three motivators for seeking new software in 2021 were to reduce paperwork (16%), modernize the office (14%), and lower the costs of current software solutions (13%).
When it comes to software investment in 2021, 24% are planning to spend less than $299/month; 11% plan to spend less than $500/month and almost 40% were not sure what their practice planned to invest in technology.
The dental industry is always evolving, and many practices find it difficult to keep up. To navigate changes within their practice and the industry, 43% look to the American Dental Association for guidance. Twenty-nine percent look to their local or state dental association, and 13% read industry publications.
Practices said that their preferred method of communication with patients in 2021 will be text messages (53%). Email came in at 24% and phone was the preferred communication channel of just 19% of practices.
As you may expect, given the pandemic, patient volume was the top challenge practices anticipate for 2021 (44%). Hiring and staffing (19%) and industry updates and regulations (17%) were the second and third challenges identified.
When asked what actions could make their practice more productive or profitable in 2021, 38% said marketing. Thirty-one percent of practices said that less coding or industry changes would help them be more productive or profitable and 26% said technology adoption.
The good news is that 86% of practice leaders are confident (35%) or very confident (51%) in their practice’s future. Just 13% were somewhat confident or neutral about their practice’s outlook.
The reality is that 2020 was a tough year for varying reasons and to different degrees for every practice. But through it all, practices remained resilient and are optimistic about what the future holds despite lasting impacts and challenges.
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Vyne Dental’s objective for conducting the “State of the Dental Industry study” was to identify opportunities to better support our current and future Vyne Dental customers. The informational data aforementioned are the results from active Vyne Dental customers who agreed to participate in our survey conducted between November 19th through December 9th of 2020. The data provided is for convenience and informational purposes only.
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