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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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: email@example.com