Ask the Expert

BMO Harris Bank logoDear Christine: I’ve been running my dental practice for 32 years and, like many who are either starting out or are established in their communities, have been feeling the impact of COVID-19. We are experiencing a steady decline in patient bookings. I am working to balance my book of business to make up for the operational and enclosure costs that were required to meet the new regulatory criteria; such as adding plastic barriers in our enclosure(s) and purchasing additional personal protective equipment for my staff. As a result, I’ve had to cut hours for my long-term staff and decrease the number of chairs available. For the first time in three decades, I feel I am spreading myself too thin. Do you have any thoughts on how I may maintain financial wellness and stability during this time? – Wellness Matters

Dear Wellness Matters:

The dental industry has always been highly regulated to meet public health and state specific standards – you are no stranger to meeting this criteria. However, with a decrease in patient bookings due to the collective fear of the pandemic, dentists must now find ways to reduce operational costs in order to balance their book of business. A difficult and daunting task that can easily take a toll on your financial and physical wellness. So how can you maintain your financial position and wellness? Here are few considerations:

- Try to reduce weekly costs. For example, cancel unused subscriptions or switch to lower plans for services. Renegotiate with your suppliers to lower payments or arrange longer payment terms for a period of time. They will want to keep you as a customer in the long run and may be flexible about deferring or accepting reduced payments.

- Fixed assets are usually the more expensive items you’ve purchased to run your business and typically last more than one year. Think about taking the opportunity to streamline and sell anything you no longer need. Common examples to convert to cash include assessing excess technology, machinery and furniture. Go online or tap into your network to sell unused computers, monitors, servers, telephones, dental machinery and other gear to raise cash.

- Don’t forget to communicate with your patients clearly and often. It’s always a nice touch hearing from my dental office. Let patients know what’s happening with your business, what’s changed in terms of expected service, any safety measures you’ve implemented, and how to reach you. Be clear and direct about what your business can and cannot do because of the crisis and any cancellation policies you’ve set. Leverage outbound calls as well as social media as main channels of communication. This may help offset some of the fear your patients may be experiencing.

An extended period of crisis creates a new set of stresses and makes it even more important that you prioritize your mental and emotional well-being. It’s recommended to take steps to safeguard your mental health. Don’t shy away from reaching out to peers to find out their tips and tricks for coping with stress. Talk to friends and family as well. Many of them are facing similar challenges as you.

Although there is no one easy solution, the steps you are taking today will assist you in the future. Continue to stay on top of evolving information, focus on maintaining relationships with your patients to offset their fear, reach out to people you trust for their input and advice, work closely with your team – and you’ll be well positioned to enjoy an upswing.

Wishing you and your team prosperity and health.

A commercial banker since 2006, Ms. Olmstead Lopez advises mid- to large-size practices, leveraging her background in commercial credit underwriting and structuring, and providing industry-specific expertise and local market insight to add value, foster long-lasting relationships and — above all — helping dentists realize their vision for growth.

Editor’s note: This article is provided by BMO Harris Bank, the ADA Member Advantage-endorsed provider for practice financing. Call 1-833-276-6017 or visit bmoharris.com/dentists for more information.