COVID-19 strongly impacted dental practices in community health settings as much as in inpatient and outpatient units. Our rapid adjustments are now just two years behind us, but these lessons will continue to impact how we deliver dental care now and in the future. A study released in February 2022 discussed these impacts and can shed some light on how to safely and successfully treat oral healthcare patients even as COVID-19 numbers drop.
COVID-19 Impact on Dental Healthcare Providers
COVID-19 was a scramble for all healthcare providers, but the FQHC community was perhaps the hardest hit with the fewest resources. The pandemic had the immediate effect of closing facilities to elective procedures but also forced us to create short and long-term strategies to continue to function as safety nets for our communities.
The Oral Health Workforce Research Center (OHWRC) suggests the impact of COVID-19 on dental care affected not only care delivery but even financing and regulatory changes that had a particular impact on community health. For example:
- COVID-19 impacted private and public enrollment in dental plans.
- It created ripples in adult Medicaid coverage related to state budget cuts.
- Regulatory rules changed around telehealth and scope of practice regulations.
- Dental schools adjusted their requirements for live patient exams and other areas to accommodate the pandemic.
Community healthcare workers across the FQHC continuum played a critical role during COVID. From family practice to dental delivery, these organizations managed to roll with these and other changes to take care of their communities. Given that most of these organizations have a thin financial and staffing margin, how we stepped up to what COVID-19 delivered was incredible.
How We’re Faring Today and What We Learned
Research released in the February 2022 edition of the Journal of the American Dental Association sought to quantify the impact of COVID-19 on the dental practices found within community healthcare in the U.S. The authors distributed an observational survey to nearly 8,000 dental practitioners in the community healthcare field. The responses to the survey indicated:
- Community healthcare dental practitioners agreed that, while the COVID outbreak created immediate challenges, the pandemic would also have a long-term impact on their practice.
- More than 95% of respondents felt comfortable with their safety precautions, including PPEs, to protect them and their patients from risky aerosol-generating procedures that could cause viral spread.
- One of the biggest challenges that concerned more than 60% of participants was the continuing availability of PPEs even after the pandemic.
What takeaways from this study can we apply to our dental practices long after COVID numbers drop? The study concluded:
- The additional safety precautions instigated during COVID should continue because “dental care practitioners are at high risk of contracting and transmitting COVID-19.”
- There are higher levels of stress and anxiety associated with providing dental care now. Community healthcare providers should carefully monitor the mental health of all of their providers, including dental care teams.
- The long-term impact of COVID could drive dental and support staff providers away from the profession.
The FQHC dental healthcare community, like everyone across the provider spectrum, felt pressure from COVID-19 but rose to the occasion to continue to provide the level of care and caring our patients deserve. The lessons we learned from this black swan event will continue long after this virus is in the history books.
UHC Solutions is a proud partner of community healthcare oral-health providers. We help our clients find experienced, talent clinical and administrative resources to keep them moving forward. Contact us to find out more.