perplexed doctor looking at paperwork

I want to give you some advice on dealing with the current coronavirus crisis.

Obviously, I’m not qualified to advise on immediate measures to take, from a public health perspective. As we all know, this is a fluid situation – it is changing by the hour – and I can’t give you better facts than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or your regional and national governing bodies.

But even though this is a health crisis at a level we haven’t seen in our lifetime, it is not the first time we have faced a community or national crisis that has immediate implications for our business. In 2008, for example, we faced an economic crisis that saw people drastically curtail discretionary spending, including any nonessential dental care.

We survived that crisis, and others. And those who came out the best were the ones who embraced two fundamental principles.

PRACTICE RECOVERY: Spear Online members can begin Practice Recovery now and discover the “4 Key Initiatives” for break-even strategies to mitigate the financial strain and align your team to treat patients in this unprecedented time.

Take the long view

It’s understandable in times like this, when new information is coming in hour by hour, to be reactive and to think about how to respond in the moment. But the smart money always thinks ahead.

One of the leaders in the government response to this crisis, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), invoked a metaphor relating to hockey legend Wayne Gretzky: “He doesn't go where the puck is, he's going to where the puck is going to be.”

Dr. Fauci was talking about the spread of the virus, but I think that metaphor extends even further. I think we need to think about where the “puck is going to be” in terms of where we are going to be when we come out of this crisis.

Again, we have seen this before. Years ago, there was a Harvard Business Review article that showed how the businesses that recovered most quickly from the economic downturn of the last recession were not the ones that hunkered down and cut costs; it was the ones focused on being strategically nimble, and invested in positioning themselves for the inevitable turnaround. There is plenty of evidence that many new businesses thrived at that time by responding to the demands of a new landscape.

And just to be clear, I’m not talking about people exploiting a difficult situation for their advantage; I’m talking about having the foresight to see there will always be an upturn after a downturn, and how it makes sense to focus your energies on getting prepared for when the sun breaks through again.

And that leads us to the second principle.

Focus on what you can control

One of the most frustrating aspects of a crisis like this is the feeling of helplessness. As business and practice leaders, we are used to giving direction and responding decisively to obstacles. But so much of what we are dealing with here involves taking a wait-and-see approach, because on a day-to-day basis, we are at the mercy of circumstances as they unfold.

But when we take that longer view, we see we have more control than we realize. Because one thing we do know is the crisis will subside. You will eventually return to a normal daily routine of providing care. The question now is, what are you doing today to best prepare yourself for that breakthrough?

One thing you can do is to spend downtime on chart audits. Who had to cancel their hygiene appointment? Who is overdue? Who is scheduled to come for hygiene in the weeks ahead? What can the team be doing to ensure those future appointments are kept and those recently cancelled appointments get rescheduled?

You should also do a chart audit for outstanding treatment, so when patients do come back in, you are ready to discuss, in great detail, what they could be doing to optimize their oral health. Often, these discussions tend to slide by in the bustle of a busy practice. Now is the time to prepare those notes and have those deeper discussions.

Then there is the important communication you can be doing with your patient base about what safety precautions they can expect in your practice. Messages reassure them about the sterilization procedures in place, as well as the extra precautions you are taking in terms of cleaning waiting areas and other measures.

They should know your dental practice is one of the most diligently disinfected places they can be in during this time, and they can continue to maintain their oral health on schedule and with a clear conscience.

Finally, you should be redirecting any significant downtime toward team education. If you are continuing to pay the team even as the patient schedule is shrinking, you need to use that precious free time to ramp up the practice’s competencies in anticipation of the full schedule that is inevitably coming their way soon.

If you’re a Spear Online member, I am happy to say you have a treasure trove of material to work with – with even more being developed right now that is specifically designed to address the topics that are most urgent in this current climate.

We have set up webpages, one for specialists and one for restorative doctors, where we are archiving and updating resources on dealing with your COVID-19 response.

Now is the time to make the most of your access to this material. If you closed the practice and are paying staff, arrange a virtual team meeting around a specific online course. If you are open and have significant downtime, assign lessons to team members for those free hours. And if you are a member of Spear Practice Solutions, you have even more resources, as well as access to your dedicated consultant for individually focused advice.

Ultimately, my advice is to have a plan now, so you are primed and ready when the breakthrough comes. Because it will come. And when it does, the practices that take the lead will be the ones that anticipated the breakthrough and were ready to move to the forefront.

Imtiaz Manji is co-founder and chairman of Spear Education. Discover more of his practice management and leadership lessons at