COVID-19 recovery Q&A with Family Dental
COVID-19 Recovery Corner - a Q&A with previous Clarence Valley Business Excellence Award winners on business resilience, recovery, and transformation since COVID-19.
While social gathering rules have forced the awards to be put on hold for 2020, the awards committee has shifted its focus to support local businesses by inspiring resilience, guidance and support on business recovery over this challenging period.
This week CVBEA marketing manager Renee Murphy caught up with Family Dental Yamba and Grafton's owner and dentist - Dr Annie Lippert, to understand how they are currently managing through the impacts of COVID-19
Ms Murphy said Annie brings her extraordinary career in dentistry to the Clarence Valley that originated in South Africa. Annie and her team work on various projects to educate the community on good oral hygiene health including donating her time to preschools, day care centres and schools in the Clarence. In 2017, Annie had the privilege of donating her time to the less fortunate in Papua New Guinea with very real dental needs that she was able to humbly assist with from years of education and acquired skill.
Clarence Valley Business Excellence Awards:
• Hall of Fame 2018
• Best New Business 2018
• Innovation & Technology 2018
• Professional Services of Less than 5 Employees 2018
• People's Choice 2017
• Best New Business 2017
• Innovation & Technology 2017
• Professional Services of Less than 5 Employees 2017
• Professional Services of Less than 5 Employees 2016
• Innovation & Technology 2016
Renee Murphy: Annie, it is so nice to have you with us, before we get into the COVID questions, could you please tell us what it was it like winning an award with the CVBEA?
Annie Lippert: Firstly, thank you for the privilege to be interviewed on behalf of the Clarence Valley Business Excellence Awards. It has been a great highlight for both our practices to be involved in the awards since 2015. It is absolutely fabulous to win an award! It gives you a rush and 'heart-bursting at the seams' feeling you really can't compare! And also, it is a massive relief, knowing all your hard work has paid off!
RM: That sounds fantastic and we are all looking forward to the awards again in 2020. Now in relation to the start of the COVID crisis, did you have any business continuity plans in place to cover a major incident of any kind like this?
AL: No way! Why would you need to prepare for something that has never happened in our profession before? We could never imagine that our National Health Board would put us under strict restrictions that would limit what we can do to the very "T", and that for such a long time. It is really unheard of.
RM: Besides the shortage of 'toilet paper' in the beginning, there also seemed to be a 'shortage of masks' what is your take on the mask shortages that occurred?
AL: The reality is, before COVID-19 was declared a worldwide pandemic, our dental profession was experiencing a severe shortage of safe dental masks all over Australia. To an extent we are always prepared for infectious diseases in our profession and abide by very strict infection control guideline to keep us and our patient's safe. The shortage of masks just made it harder to do just that and we started thinking of having to start triaging patients before the pandemic was declared so as to spare this vital safety measure for those that needed it most.
RM: How did you go about managing your business and servicing your integral customers/ clients when COVID-19 struck?
AL: We have stayed in touch with our patients over social media like Facebook, providing them with updates as these levels eased as well as telephonically. Unfortunately, we had to reschedule a lot of pre-existing non-urgent appointments if they did not fall under a safe treatment to perform, and as such we could discuss the situation directly with them over the phone. It took a lot of time behind the scenes to look at each patient's medical history and age and also weigh up if it makes sense to do what they had scheduled. We definitely stayed busy! Also, we made sure we sent sms'es and phone each patient to double check they had no possible symptoms, been exposed possibly etc. If a patient left a message regarding their dental needs we returned their call and discussed what they could possibly do while they wait till it was safe to be seen and also where applicable suggested a few tips and tricks to ease the discomfort.
RM: What do you think will be your biggest/ unique challenge in re-establishing your business through these uncertain times?
AL: I think the reality is we are all financially affected by this pandemic and as such, patients who may have considered cosmetic treatments may hold off on those until their income increases or stabilises again. I believe the hurdle we will have to overcome is making patients aware that neglect will ultimately catch up with them and preventive dental care is vitally important! That means making patients see that it isn't a question of "if "they need to see us, but rather "when".
RM: If trading restrictions meant that you had time on your hands how have you used this time?
AL: Oh, we have been very effective and behind the scenes! The coronavirus gave us time to redesign our invoice and letterheads, update our websites, work on media advertising and planning oral health promotion projects for this year. It has also given us very much needed time to get both practices' accreditations renewed. It has given us dentists time to do online CPD webinars and continual learning. We also wrote and published a little corona kid's story which is available on YouTube.
RM: Annie, what do you see as the way forward from here to not only survive this pandemic, yet to continue "excellent business" practices now and into the future?
AL: I believe being excellent means being different. Just like any other business you can use comparable business in the same line as a benchmark and aim to do more and better. The same counts for the dental profession. We pride ourselves in our safe and strict infection protocols that are always in practice. Something we started doing though was asking patients to wait in their cars and we will come get them so as to limit them being exposed to circulating aerosols. I found that a really good practice. I will ask patients if they mind continuing especially in the cooler months. It meant they touched less and although we wipe anything they touched or could have contaminated, it still made transferring and contamination risk is less. Also we will keep asking patients that are even remotely unwell that may have "soldiered on" in the past to stay home. Yes, there is provision in future for phone consultations but I think we can all imagine the limitations of consulting and prescribing over the phone in dentistry. So we are looking into that and seeing if it is a possibility we can offer for our patients. Watch this space …
RM: Dr Annie it was wonderful and insightful speaking with you today and learning more about your dental practices both in Yamba and Grafton. We would love to stay in touch and be updated on all your wonderful process now and into the future.
AL: Thank you so much for the opportunity Renee and the entire CVBEA committee.