The novel coronavirus pandemic of 2020 created new ways of providing dental and medical care for every provider and patient in the nation, seemingly overnight.
“But a lot of good is emerging from it, and the best practices will stay with us for the foreseeable future,” said Dr. Warren, Berne, a Woodstock dental implant specialist.
Like many medical and dental businesses, Berne and his staff were forced to close their practice for more than a month in March and April because of state-mandated coronavirus precautions.
“When it was safe to reopen, we knew we had to make a lot of changes in the ways we did things, to keep our patients safe as well as the staff,” he said.
Compared to most other dental practices, the type of dentistry Berne practices doesn’t create a lot of aerosol, he said. “If you were having a crown or a cleaning, there’s a lot of spraying all over the place from the tools and the ultrasonic cleaning in the patients’ mouths. I’m fortunate that in my specialty the risk factor is lower because most of my patients are older and are careful to not put themselves at risk of infection,” Berne said.
Nationally, general dentistry ranks No. 2 in terms of risk of coronavirus infection because of all the fluids and spraying, he said.
Berne and his staff practiced with new protocols to keep risk of infection as low as possible, he said, aware that many people avoid seeing physicians or dentists due to fear.
“So now we have this ‘new normal, which everyone is adjusting to,” he said. “Dentistry has always had to be a lot more careful because we are in people’s faces all the time, so we’ve had to ‘up the game a bit’ and take a lot more precautions.”
After consulting with fellow dental practitioners, Berne implemented several new procedures. All office staff were required to watch instructional videos from the Centers for Disease Control, and we all trained on the new procedures with mock appointments for a full day before they re-opened, he said.
“We installed a large sign outside our building instructing our patients simply to wait in their cars until they’re called. It’s safer than sitting in a waiting room with other patients. The less people we have in the office and the more spread out they can be, the safer everyone can be, and we can control the environment. When the patient comes in, they’re checked for temperature to make sure they are fever-free as well a list of questions about how they’re feeling and where they’ve traveled or possible been exposed to the virus,” he said.
Patients now wash hands and rinse with a special mouthwash before they’re seated in the chair, and the rooms are sanitized before every patient is seen, he said. “Our staff uses more personal protection equipment than we’ve ever used before, so patients never have to fear coming in.
The term ‘new normal’ is overused, but a lot of these new protocols are going to stick around for all medical and dental practices nationally, Berne predicted. “Some good will come out of all of this,” he said.
For Dr. Christina Powers, an internal medicine physician at Medical Associates of North Georgia in Canton, the pandemic brought telemedicine into prime time, enabling patients to have computer-assisted office visits through the internet without leaving home or work.
“This works better for me and the patient because it allows me to see the patient in real time and see each other from a safe distance, especially during the pandemic. They don’t have to worry about coming into the office,” she said.
“it’s almost like an in-person office visit,” she said. The only missing elements are taking patients’ vital signs, including blood pressure, temperature and weight. “But there’ the physical presence that is important to patients’ healing and healing, and that’s missing,” she said.
“But for sick visits, rather than someone who feels awful dragging themselves into the office, I can see how well they look on the screen and assess their condition. It’s much more efficient, and I can see more patients, and I have more control over it. I can go into the visit when I’m ready to see them and when they’re ready.”
There are a few patients who are reluctant to try it, but they’re mostly older and perhaps not comfortable on a computer or smartphone, she said. “But once they get on an do it, they love it, especially the ones who can’t drive. There’s no drive time and they save money on gas,” she said.
“There’s no waiting in the waiting room with other patients. You avoid that risk,” she added.
It took the pandemic to push it through, she said. “We hope it’s here to stay. It has changed our medical model for the better. There’s a convenience factor for the patient. They can just use their smartphone or computer from home, or while they’re at work. I really hope this is here to stay.”