By: Shannon Patterson, CPR, CMSR
Kolbe Certified™ Consultant
Director of Practice Opportunities
The last twelve months have been interesting, to say the least, and, like many of you, I am looking forward to saying goodbye to 2020 and welcoming in a new year. We all grew tired of the words furlough, quarantine, closed, canceled, paused, postponed, re-start, PPE, PPP, and bounce-back as the entire planet was consumed by the pandemic, and life as we all knew it was altered, perhaps forever. While it has been an extremely challenging year, it has also taught us many lessons. The first and most important being how to adapt in times of change.
Though segments of the Wall Street economy thrived, this year has been a challenging year for much of the service side of the economy, and orthodontists were no exception. In most states, they were forced to shut down their offices for six to eight weeks. Residency programs sent students home and virtual classes and meetings took over, while our pets at home were thrilled, it left many of us very concerned about the future of orthodontics. As we wrap up the end of 2020, this is what we have learned:
1. Most practices rebounded strongly even after shutting down for 6-8 weeks (and in some cases up to 12 weeks) during the pandemic. At first, we thought this was pent up demand accumulated during the shut-downs, but as the months have gone on we continue to see trends where practices have had continuous growth through year-end. In most cases, the June-December period of 2020 was up substantially compared to the June-December period of 2019.
2. Practices quickly adapted and added virtual exams to stay connected to established patients. This technology allowed practices to decrease the distance between themselves and patients during a very challenging time. We feel strongly this is not going to disappear once social distancing is lifted. The pandemic has only accelerated a move toward teledentistry that was already taking hold; we expect it is here to stay.
3. We have seen multiple practices invest in software such as Dental Monitoring, Smile Snap, Rhinogram, and others which allow for patient interaction and case tracking often resulting in fewer patient appointments, a trend that patients are embracing.
4. Interestingly, practice overhead rates are down in most practices this year by 5-10%. There are several reasons for this, but perhaps the biggest is the tightening of our collective belts which resulted in better management of our expenses than before the pandemic.
5. Job seekers saw a big shift to a remote interview process with virtual interviews versus on-site interviews. We feel this has enhanced the interview process for both parties allowing more time to get to know one another during the interview process. I would encourage all of you to embrace this trend and take advantage of this technology as part of your due diligence process.
6. Although some associate salaries took a dip early on during the pandemic, we are now seeing many of those associates hit year-end, new-patient start goals attached to their production incentive bonuses. We would say the orthodontic specialty is enjoying full employment again.
7. The job market is still very strong for new doctors with both private practices and DSOs hiring and offering competitive compensation packages. If you are looking to make a change in your career, now is a good time to investigate potential opportunities.
8. We’re all in this together, it was amazing how many webinars and online events took place in our industry to help one another and share ideas on how to pull through the pandemic. We believe this will continue and suggest you take full advantage of learning from others and sharing insight and ideas. This idea of “we’re better together” is one of the key truths emerging from this pandemic year. By sharing ideas, solutions, fears, and hopes – we all coped and performed much better than we would have alone.
For decades to come, we will remember the year COVID-19 struck. It was a year to remember whether we liked it or not. However, endings bring us closer, teach us lessons and prepare us for the future. Our industry grew stronger from this year’s events and we should never forget that we’re all in this together. You’re not alone and someday soon we’ll be able to visit, learn and laugh together again.