10 steps back to practice after COVID-19 – looking forward
Judith Husband discusses how and why dental teams need to come together to emerge from the pandemic stronger than ever.
All journeys begin with a destination in mind and a plan.
Reopening general practice is perhaps one of the most challenging journeys many of us will face in our careers. It may seem a simple aim to get back to work. But it is now becoming evident to us all that we face unique challenges. We need to invest time to build a plan using the published guidance and emerging evidence to navigate our own unique route.
During these challenging times, we must acknowledge this and build within our teams and professional networks robust support for each other, as well as designing our new ways of clinical care delivery.
We have rightly focused huge amounts of energy and financial resources to make the physical environment of our practices as safe as possible,. This must extend to the mental and emotional wellbeing of ourselves and our teams for the months ahead.
We all know practices are unique. More than ever we must fully appreciate this. It is right that the NHS guidance has reinforced the need to move at different speeds. Peer support is invaluable, but peer pressure can be the most pernicious of drivers. As we plan our own paths, we must learn from colleagues but embrace our differences.
This is an opportunity to revisit our communication and support structures for our teams, whilst also exploring exciting and sustainable ways to communicate with our patients. At this critical phase in the pandemic, we are emerging from a crude lock down into a world that still carries risks with the possibility of national or regional lock downs being needed again.
Some of us will have significant numbers, or key team members, shielding. Moving forward, we are all likely to experience the unscheduled absences by those needing to isolate should they become ill.
The risk, and temptation is to focus on the present. How to get through the backlog of work and how to get the surgeries running to optimum capacity again. How to source the best value and genuine PPE and how to amend contracts and restructure the business.
Looking up and outward
A myriad of immediate and urgent dilemmas. These are important. But even more vital is looking up and outward, looking at where our world will be in one year and in five years.
After the frenzy of sourcing PPE, fit-testing and implementing a multitude of refreshed clinical protocols, it is becoming increasingly evident that we cannot just return to our old ways of working. Getting the right respirator mask or hood is only a very small part of the solution.
A graduate of the late nineties, throughout my career we have discussed preventative dentistry, oral health inequalities and minimally invasive approaches to patient care. Numerous iterations of NHS contracting have had only limited impact on the nation’s oral health. The historical obsession with interventions, counting and monitoring defines dental care, and our worth, by a series of discrete procedures.
With many of us forced to undertake remote consultations, we are learning that new ways of working are possible. Some have enjoyed this approach, others view it as a necessary evil. We must learn to appropriately value our time and professional expertise. As well as new clinical pathways we must innovate our entire service delivery model.
Renewed and reinvigorated
This is our opportunity to explore new technologies, integrate virtual consultations, take a holistic preventative approach to oral care that will support and protect business continuity. Models that will reinforce and support patient involvement in their own health. Blended with clinical interventions that are appropriate and safe to deliver. Flexibility in care delivery and a sensitive, cautious approach to treatment interventions will protect our patients and build a sustainable business model for the future.
With recent events, the populations we serve have evolved at an incredible rate. Our profession must harness this opportunity.
Many of us have been able to reflect on the important aspects of life during lock down. Each of us must devise our personal path in our new world, with the one common factor that we all share – living with profound uncertainty.
This is a time for a shared professional vision, renewed and reinvigorated support networks and building a new relationship with the communities we serve. We need to shift our focus towards caring for our patients rather than merely treating disease.