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Keep the Change: Post-Pandemic Orthodontics by Dr. Courtney Schiefelbein

Orthotown Magazine 

10 opportunities to improve the practice postpandemic


by Dr. Courtney Schiefelbein


It’s been three-quarters of a year since the COVID pandemic began to hit me personally. While chirps and chatter began in January 2020, it hit New York in March 2020.

And while the beginning of the pandemic was terrifying and stressful, forcing me to shut down my office for 10 weeks, it also made me pivot and make some changes and, dare I say, some grown-up decisions.

I made a lot of changes in my practice because of the pandemic, and I plan on keeping some of them in the long run. Here are 10 changes I’m making permanent that other Townies might consider adopting.

1. Become self-sufficient.

Before the pandemic, I worked one day a week for a general dentist and spent the rest of the time in my private practice.

I told myself I needed this part-time job for the income. I was just lying to myself. After not getting a paycheck from the general dentist, I realized I didn’t need the income. I was going to start betting 100% on myself. So, after returning for three weeks, I gave my notice, quit and never looked back. If there’s something outside your practice that hits more like an obligation than an opportunity, cut it loose. What you lose in incremental or supplemental income is often negligible compared with the freedom you find.

2. Get flexible, stay flexible.

People in New York City moved out—some went to the suburbs, some went south and some even went all the way to Tel Aviv! Patients started working from home (and continue to work from home). Their schedules became a little more flexible, so I did too.

I no longer see patients on Fridays; I decided to take the day to catch up, review the business side, study treatment plans and travel. If they can work remotely, so can I (at least for long weekends). I now see patients in my practice every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, and every other Tuesday.

Just because you’ve had traditional business hours for years is no reason to keep them. We’re not living in traditional times, and there’s a chance for doctors to get just as much work done while having room to roam.

3. Make personalized care the standard.

To socially distance in our practice, we decreased the number of daily patients. We built more buffers in our schedule and ended up spending more time with patients. I realized that for a lot of my patients, who were now working from home, a trip to their orthodontist was actually a big deal and a departure from their usual routines, and I recognized that now more than ever, I have to do my best to be the best part of my patients’ days. Sometimes that meant more than teeth—it meant playing friend, therapist or confidante. I enjoy seeing fewer patients because I feel like I have time to bond with them more and really show how much we care.

I even created our own greeting cards to give out to patients when we feel they need some support or a cheer or a hug. Our mission is to be a blessing in everyone’s lives, and now we have the time in our choreographed schedules to do it.

4. Free up the financing options.

One of the biggest investments we made to the practice was onboarding OrthoFi to create more financial options for patients. Many patients’ work situations and cash flow changed, and their desire for self-improvement after staring at themselves on Zoom calls has skyrocketed.

I knew it was my chance to make orthodontic treatment more affordable—not by lowering my prices but by allowing more financial flexibility. Patients can choose their down payment and monthly payments in parameters that I feel comfortable with. This helps the patients feel more in control (even though we know that I really am).

Plus, while I am still out of network with insurances, this takes the headache out of my team wasting time on insurance inquiries and insurance claims, because it’s done automatically. Ironically enough, by allowing the patient more flexibility in their payments, not only was I able to increase my treatment fees but also my case conversion has gone up.

5. Create passive income.

When I came back from quarantine, I realized I wanted more passive income for the practice, so I created an e-commerce website that promoted our Smile Pop-branded teeth-whitening products.

A lot of e-commerce websites charge a monthly fee to host your products, and I didn’t know how much I would really sell. So, after much research, I settled on Square to sell my products because it only takes a percentage per financial transaction, like any other transaction made using Square. I use my own teeth-whitening products and promote it on my personal Instagram account, @dr.courtney.ortho, where I get a lot of sales!

All kinds of e-commerce and in-office supplemental sales out there can bring in a nice chunk of change. The setup can take some effort but once it gets going, it’s a source of constant passive income. Your patients are already interested in aesthetics and trust you to lead them to future products and services that work.

6. Keep virtual options open.

Back in March 2020, I jumped on the bandwagon and started virtual consultations. The virtual consults and check-ins in quarantine really made me miss seeing my patients face-to-face. But my patients liked them!

So I compromised, and dedicated every other Tuesday for virtual consultations and virtual check-ins with patients. My team knows that in 2021 we want to try to get all future retainer checks and 10-to-12-week Invisalign progress checks done virtually.

Through Schedulista, I created special links for patients to schedule virtual appointments. I do these on our “administration Tuesdays” (two times per month) so I’m not distracted with in-office patients during these sessions.

7. Up your online feedback game.

I incorporated SmileSnap, a virtual consultation widget, on my website where potential patients can answer a few questions and submit photos online to see if orthodontic treatment is right for them. After briefly reviewing their photos, I respond with a brief personalized description, an estimated treatment length and an estimated treatment fee range. People expect businesses to provide this kind of feedback online; the businesses that do it well turn inquiries into sales.

More than half of these patients book a follow-up in-office consultation. While it can be time-consuming to respond to the SmileSnap submissions, it weeds out patients who aren’t that serious about starting treatment. For $149 a month, it’s been well worth the investment.

8. Track goals, reward success.

We made goal-setting a priority in our office. I bought a felt letterboard where as a team we establish and write out our monthly goals. At the moment they involve the number of case starts, in-office whitening treatments and reviews.

At our biweekly team meetings, we not only discuss our monthly goals but also spend time improving the practice. Every team member is gradually learning what is involved with each role in the practice, making us stronger not only individually but as a team as well.

The best part: We have hit our goals every single month since we started posting them. As a celebration for reaching goals, we spend a couple of hours after work each month to celebrate: facials as a team, massages, dinners, etc.

9. Make it simple and keep it clean.

To minimize contact, we have made almost all forms electronic, including the super-annoying COVID questionnaire forms. We’re not bringing paper back into the office once we’re through this pandemic.

We also take regular temperature checks and require hand sanitizer use from the patients the moment they walk through our door.

I have also invested in a rapid COVID antigen test for team members after I see what they’ve been up to over the weekend on Instagram.

The usual level of cleanliness and safety isn’t going to cut it in a postpandemic world. The offices that visibly take the extra step are going to gain and keep patient trust.

10. Hire if it helps.

One last thing I did was hire an extra assistant who comes in on our busiest clinic day. This has been great, because she has helped lighten the load on my main assistant and also lit a fire under her! This extra assistant is amazing and very self-sufficient.

With her there, I can get more things done during my workday than I normally can, such as treatment plans and business management. Don’t hesitate to hire if the role will pay for itself in increased production.

Read more about practicing through the pandemic
Dr. Courtney Schiefelbein documented her thoughts and day-to-day activities as she navigated business and life at the height of the outbreak.
Check out her previous article here.


Author Bio
Courtney Schiefelbein
Dr. Courtney Schiefelbein is a board-certified orthodontist who practices in New York at her private practice, Smile Pop. Established in July 2019, Smile Pop is unlike a typical orthodontic practice in that it features a retail storefront meant to attract new patients from the street ,rather than from traditional referral sources. Schiefelbein got her start at Southern Illinois University, where she received a Doctor of Dental Medicine, and upon graduating continued her education with a one-year fellowship in orthodontics at the University of Florida and a three-year orthodontic specialty training at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. Email: drcourtney@smilepop.com

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