Sending the Right Message to Patients as Your Office Reopens

May 28, 2020

It can be hard trying to craft a message to your patients about what they can expect during their first visits amid COVID-19. First and foremost, you’ll want to clearly outline what you’re doing in terms of cleaning and disinfection. But you’ll also want to project confidence about welcoming them back and express how much you’re looking forward to seeing patients again. You know their care has been delayed, so you probably want to remind them their health depends on resuming treatment. Finally, you’ll want to explain what your new procedures will be when they arrive: how to check in, whether to use your waiting room or wait in their vehicles, etc.

That’s a lot of information to get across. Like a lot of other people in your position, you might be having a hard time figuring out where to start drafting letters, emails or social media posts. Every situation is unique, but we’ve created some examples to get you started as you craft your own response to COVID-19. (Note that this is intended only as a starting point. It is important to ensure that your own message is accurate and complies with all applicable laws and guidelines for your jurisdiction.)

Sample patient email, letter or social post:
You may decide to send something like this as a long-form communication by mail or break it into smaller pieces to send in a series of emails or social posts. Portions of this can also be adapted for use as a telephone script.

Dear (Patient),

Your health and safety have always been our #1 priority. COVID-19 has only deepened our commitment to you.

Our office adheres to stringent procedures including those outlined in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Guidelines for Infection Control in Dental Health-Care Settings. The thorough and rigorous cleaning, sterilization and disinfection of all instruments and surfaces are routine and second nature for us, as they are throughout dentistry. We believe it is because our profession takes such extreme precautions that dental offices are highly uncommon sources of disease transmission at large scale.

You might not realize everything we do to help keep our patients—and ourselves—safe. That’s why we’d like to take this opportunity and explain the many steps we always follow in more detail, as well as the additional precautions we’ve implemented specifically to address COVID-19.

How We Sanitize Exam and Treatment Rooms

Before you enter the exam room, all surfaces have been cleaned and disinfected. This includes but is not necessarily limited to the dental chair, light, drawer handles and countertops. Basically, we sanitize everything that has been touched or could have been touched. Any protective covers that are necessary are replaced as well. The chemicals we use are professional-grade and designed specifically for clinical environments. We also wash our hands frequently, and always before seeing patients.

(photo suggestion: insert image of your staff wiping down and cleaning exam room)

How We Sanitize Instruments

Just as in doctor’s offices or hospitals, we use certain non-disposable items like handpieces (commonly known a drills) and other instruments. These are all carefully cleaned and sanitized using special equipment in a designated area of our practice. It’s not like washing dishes at home. We use precision tools like ultrasonic baths to thoroughly clean our instruments, and high-temperature autoclaves to sanitize them. We also use tests and indicators to monitor these processes, and visually inspect instruments at every step. Once again, cleaners, detergents and other chemicals being used are designed specifically for clinical, not household, use.

(photo suggestion: insert image of your sterilization area)

How We Use Disposable Items

We use as many disposable items as possible, such as needles, gloves, masks, etc. After each patient, disposable items are carefully discarded according to current guidelines and all members of the treatment team thoroughly wash their hands.

How We’re Responding To COVID-19

We’re taking extra precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 including:

  • Cleaning our office using products from the EPA’s list of registered surface disinfectants for use against COVID-19
  • Carefully following all national, state and local guidelines, including the CDC’s specific recommendations for our care providers to use Personal Protective Equipment like masks, eye protection, etc.
  • Pre-screening patients and not treating anyone with a fever, cough or other symptoms of respiratory illness
  • Not allowing staff members to work if they are experiencing any respiratory symptoms
  • Taking extra care to regularly wipe down common touchpoints like door handles
  • Streamlining our procedures for check-in, removing unnecessary items from our reception area, asking patients to come alone to their appointments, and making accommodations for patients who prefer to wait outside or in their vehicles

How We’re Protecting Ourselves

We would not be providing care if we were concerned that we could not do so safely. The comprehensive steps we’ve always used to clean, sanitize and create a healthy environment continue to protect us today. We believe the additional actions we’re taking to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are effective, including carefully following the CDC’s new guidelines. Just like you, we have family and loved ones who rely on us, so working safely is extremely important to us.

How We’re Welcoming You Back

You’ll notice some changes in advance of your next appointment. We’ll be calling you prior to your arrival to screen you for any symptoms which would require us to postpone your appointment and direct you to your healthcare provider for treatment. On that call, we can also answer any questions you may have and explain our new procedures for when you arrive to your appointment. We may take your temperature, or screen you in person for symptoms prior to your appointment. While these steps are inconvenient, they are necessary to ensure we’re doing everything we can to protect all of our patients as well as our team.

Dental care is important in order to stay healthy and prevent minor issues from progressing into painful, complex and expensive conditions. We understand that during times like these, it is important to weigh the risks and benefits of treatment. If you’re in any doubt, we encourage you to use the information in this letter to discuss the situation with your healthcare provider.

As we all return to a more normal routine—going to appointments, shopping in more stores, seeing friends and loved ones, taking our vehicles for service, visiting dry cleaners—people are taking extra care to ensure our safety. Please rest assured that our office is likely one of the most thoroughly cleaned and disinfected environments you can possibly be in.

We’ve missed you and all our patients and look forward to seeing you again soon.

(your signature here)

Sample door and reception area signage:
You may wish to post a reminder of your check in procedures on the front door or at the front desk to ensure that patients are aware of and following your new protocols.

Covid-19 sign hanging on business door

If you’re using your reception area, a table tent is useful to remind patients what you’re doing to maintain a safe environment, and their own responsibilities to your practice and fellow patients to help keep things clean.

tabletop sign for a business

One final note: patients are bombarded with messages about the additional cleaning measures being taken by all of the places they visit, from supermarkets and stores to auto dealerships and recreational facilities like golf courses. It’s important that, as a healthcare provider, your communications are especially clear. Patients expect significantly more from you than they do their local big box store. Luckily, infection control is second nature for dentists, and you’re following all of the latest guidelines. If your messages are transparent and thorough, you’ll be off to a great start in building a new sense of trust. Finally, remember to be yourself. Let some of what they love about you and your team shine through as you invite them back.