Smiling doctor on a laptop, in the foreground is an ipad with the Spear Resource Page on screen.

Earlier this month, Dr. Kate Pettyjohn noticed that a case of gloves, some boxes of masks, a large dispenser of hand sanitizer – items essential to front-line health care response to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 – were stolen from her Denver-area restorative dental practice.

Already stressed about the pending financial toll of the ongoing public health crisis on her practice, the Spear Resident Faculty shared her experiences on Spear Online – joining the discussion about how independent practitioners can navigate this surreal time when shelter-in-place orders, social distancing, vacant lobbies and rising unemployment have become a daily concern for independent dental practices.

“Our world is in a place I could never have imagined,” Dr. Pettyjohn wrote in a recent post on Spear Talk, the clinician-only discussion forum that is currently buzzing with COVID-19 chatter, as clinicians look to each other for information related to emergency patient care and tips to stabilize their practices.

She felt it was her responsibility to let people know that she got lucky, with limited items stolen. She pleaded with her peers to proactively secure their own personal protective equipment and remain supportive of one another as dental practices everywhere face the reality of staving off economic hardship.

“So what could this mean for us as dentists and small business owners?” Dr. Pettyjohn wrote. “It means PREPARE now as best you can to mitigate the damage later.”

With campus events canceled through April 15, Spear faculty have developed webinars, emergency resources and other customized online tools to inform dental teams how to handle the COVID-19 crisis.

Updates include setting Spear Study Club members up with virtual meeting and preparing to take upcoming seminars online to replicate the traditional campus experience. Original, timely educational content is being developed daily.

The American Dental Association has recommended that all dental practices postpone elective procedures, citing the “unprecedented and extraordinary circumstances” of the global pandemic. Spear has canceled all seminars and workshops at its campus in Scottsdale, Arizona, through April 15. CDOCS has also canceled all workshops at the Spear Campus and Dentsply Sirona Academy in Charlotte, North Carolina, through April 15.

SPEAR IS HERE TO HELP: Dentists must stand together in these remarkably challenging times. Explore Spear Online's team training resources, video lessons, Patient Education multimedia and clinician-only Spear Talk discussion forum for information to safeguard your practice and address patient needs once the COVID-19 crisis settles.

Spear began increased campus disinfection measures weeks ago and the frequency of cleanings will continue in anticipation of future events. Spear is monitoring updates from local and national authorities and will make decisions regarding campus events beyond April 15 on a routine basis.

Yet as everything in the brick-and-mortar dental world seems on pause right now, more dentists are taking their teams into the virtual realm for survival strategies and resources to eventually address patient care once the crisis settles.

Taking more dental resources to the virtual realm

In addition to Spear Online, which includes 1,500 clinical and practice management lessons, CE-eligible coursework and the Patient Education video platform, Spear is addressing dentists’ needs through:

Study Club

  • To help interdisciplinary teams cope with social distancing, study clubs can now use video and hosting technology – making it seamless to share information and learn together without being in the same room.

Practice Solutions

  • Client practices have been provided with templates for patient communications and dedicated consultants, who are typically focused on helping practices refine their plans for growth, have shifted into the mode of protecting practices from potential recession. Faculty have developed several practice management webinars, including those being disseminated to non-members to encourage precision in clinical response to the crisis.

Masters Program

  • Faculty have encouraged specialist practice leaders to reach out to their referral practices to stoke dialogue about how to navigate the crisis and remain prepared to treat patients, including through virtual study club meetings and webinars.
Spear webpage with a large cursor clicking on Digital Tools in the menu bar.

Dental lessons for the inevitable downtime

Forced to close his Seattle-area practice and work from home, Dr. Gregg Kinzer, like many who travel the U.S. extensively, decided quickly to hunker down to make sure he felt OK in the wake of recent jet-setting to various dental events.

Like dentists across the U.S., he and other Spear faculty have closed their practices and taken to virtual meetings as everyone takes steps to integrate ground learning and traditional campus experience with multimedia online. Dr. Kinzer said now is the time for independent dentists to remain prepared to treat patients and understand emergency protocols.

“We are fortunate to be in a position to be responsive and active to the needs of our customers now during this time of crisis because we already had such strong online education platform in place,” he said.

While many dental practices have so many difficult decisions to make, he said Spear can provide resources to help dentists feel more secure heading into the remainder of the year and anticipated recession.

“If you were out of your practice for, say a month or more, you could immerse yourself in so much on Spear Online – and we’re just continuing to add to it,” Dr. Kinzer said.

While the needs of individual practices vary, all dentists now face the reality of managing a crisis and mitigating losses in their practice teams and businesses. But there’s also the challenge of maintaining clinical excellence and preparing the practice to address patient care after restrictions are lifted.

“A colleague of mine reminded me that we want to make ourselves better in this downtime ... so that when the problems are no longer present in the economy, you’ve taken yourself and raised yourself up to another level as a person, dentist or business owner,” he said.

“It’s an opportunity to learn more, be better and get systems in place, if that’s what you need. You can use our online platform to make yourself better so when you do get back into practice, you’re running and not playing catch up.”

“We might find that we can become very innovative right now and think of new ways to provide information than we have in the past. So I think this is an opportunity for us to be creative, to think outside of what we’ve normally done, and we might find that we do things out of necessity now that become a better means of delivering content.” – Dr. Gregg Kinzer, Spear Resident Faculty
Close up of a man standing at a desk in front of a laptop

Social distancing leads to unity among Study Club members

“Can you see me now?” one dentist asked. “Yes, I can see you. How’s everybody doing so far?”

In their first virtual meeting, members of one Spear Study Club in the Washington D.C. area shared sincere conversations and laughs during a video conferencing session in which they discussed the new realities facing their practices.

“It’s the best time to have virtual study club meetings,” said club leader Dr. Norachai “Eddy” Phisuthikul, a periodontist who practices in Annandale, Virginia.

“People want to get their mind off what’s going on right now with the craziness,” he said. “Having something to do is a blessing.”

Spear’s virtualization of the intimate, small group learning environment of Study Club allows interdisciplinary teams to connect and support each other comfortably through video conferencing. Clinicians can meet and learn together without being in the same room.

Maintaining interdisciplinary communications with club members can provide clarity and focus through the crisis and potential downturn. Spear faculty are working on new Study Club content and coaching club leaders on how to co-facilitate meetings to make the digital transition seamless.

Practice Solutions out front on COVID-19 webinars

Practice Solutions leaders Dr. Gary DeWood, Dr. Mitch Ellingson and Amy Morgan worked quickly earlier this month to anticipate client needs and the three have led a series of webinars with discussion tailored to independent practice concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The practice management side of Spear, which combines dedicated consulting with real-time analytics, is typically focused on helping practices meet their goals for optimal growth. But as the public health crisis has unfolded, Spear’s consultants have been in emergency management mode – helping practice owners recognize their often-difficult options to survive as the national economy and health care systems are strained.

In one video to customers, Ms. Morgan, who joined Spear Resident Faculty in 2018, reminded dentists to “hold onto the good news during these very confusing and stressful times.”

“There have been other national disasters or national issues and there is a playbook on how we can stay ahead of the curve,” she said, adding that dentists and their teams are in a position to make a positive impact at home, no matter the state of dentistry.

“Everyone in the Spear community can be a beacon of positive health care professionalism in a time where our communities are going to be looking for it,” Ms. Morgan said. “We have to take care of our patient community because they trust you. They don’t trust all of the news, but they trust you and they trust your team.”

SPEAR PRACTICE SOLUTIONS: As the public health crisis unfolds, Practice Solutions clients are receiving customized action plans, advice from their dedicated remote consultants and real-time analytics. Speak with our practice growth experts to learn how your team can navigate this challenging time.

Dr. DeWood, one of Spear’s founding faculty members, said the Practice Solutions team is working to help clients understand their options, to balance recommendations and mandates, and to consider details such as the harsh reality of potential staff furloughs.

While the conversations have been emotional at times, Dr. DeWood said he is trying to stay focused on helping dentists take one step at a time, to plan their work and work their plan, rather than jumping to conclusions.

“We have created a whole bunch of material for Practice Solutions clients, but we’re also sharing that information with the rest of our Spear subscribers,” Dr. DeWood said.

“We’re doing two webinars every day, Monday through Friday,” he said. “One will be for Practice Solutions clients the other will be for our entire Spear family.”

Webinars are focused to address the most pressing issues for independent practices, such as “Growth Plans For the Team: Positive Planning For an Uncertain Future” and “Patient Financing: Supporting Your Patient Base In a Challenging Economy.”

With information coming into Spear so rapidly from government and clinical authorities, he said the team has rallied to stay out front in informing clients. The webinars will remain a central source for practice management strategies as the crisis evolves.

“It changes daily,” Dr. DeWood said about the webinar content. “We do a sort of state-of-the-union to begin each webinar, like, ‘here’s what we know right now’ ... Somedays we completely set aside what we had planned on introducing to address what had happened earlier in the day.”

Michael Ferraresi is Communications Team Lead at Spear Education. Communications Specialist Kaitlyn Thompson contributed to this article.