'Dentistry can feel really lonely': How Aspen Dental supported a Florida dentist through the pandemic

Receiving support from Aspen Dental has been invaluable to a Florida dentist, and she predicts more dentists may lean on DSOs during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ashley Keen, DDS, a practicing dentist in Florida and partner with Aspen Dental, told Becker's how Aspen Dental has supported her business through unprecedented challenges.

Editor's note: Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Question: What has it been like working amid the pandemic?

Dr. Ashley Keen: Florida just resumed elective surgeries, and so far we've seen a drop in patient count because people are nervous to leave their house. We've been in constant communication with existing patients to let them know we're open. We're also sanitizing everything in the office, staggering and lengthening appointments, and screening all patients. Office managers let patients know what to expect ahead of time, to eliminate the fear of the unknown. We're also following up with patients 48 hours after their appointment to make sure they're feeling well, comfortable, happy.

Everything has gone pretty smoothly, but things will get more complicated as we get busier.

Q: How has being a part of a DSO helped you?

AK: We've never been through this before. We go to school to become dentists, not HR personnel, lawyers or business moguls. We're here to take care of patients and their oral health.

Under normal circumstances, having the support of a DSO allows me to focus on clinical work, as they help run the business side. Amid the pandemic, Aspen Dental has provided personal protective equipment, helped us understand the practice's profitability, provided a virtual care model, and helped us weigh risks and benefits for not only our team members and business, but for patients and the community, as well.

Aspen Dental has a team dedicated to working with different companies to obtain PPE. We have weekly owner-doctor calls to ensure everyone has what they need. Currently, Aspen Dental is shipping PPE out every two weeks. We use a hotline email to notify them about any shortages, and the team tries to get supplies out to us if available. They're also analyzing trends to stay ahead of shortages. Initially, masks and N95 respirators were hard to get, but now it's becoming more difficult to obtain gowns, so Aspen Dental is trying to stay ahead of that and keep gowns in stock.

The most invaluable thing Aspen Dental has provided, though, has been the network of people. Dentistry can feel really lonely — sometimes it can feel like you're out on an island by yourself. As we're stuck at home worrying about our families and businesses, having a support system is something you can't put a price tag on.

Q: How do you foresee the DSO landscape changing after COVID-19?

AK: That's impossible to know, but DSOs can minimize business losses and help support staff. When people start to understand that those are the benefits of joining a DSO, the landscape will grow much stronger.

We don't know what our new normal is going to be — it changes every day. Having a team of people keeping us informed about the changing guidelines has been really helpful. The structure of DSOs is a big benefit, too. Aspen Dental analyzes market trends: Is patient demand coming back? Are people performing comprehensive dentistry, or focusing on limited treatment? If you're out on your own that could be a daunting task. Knowing you have backing that has your and patients' best interest in mind gives you peace of mind.

I think the strong network will be enticing to people. Knowing you have a team that cares about you — how can you fault something like that?

Q: If readers only take away one thing from this article, what would you want it to be?

AK: In the time of the unknown, having support and direction is important. DSOs sometimes have a bad reputation when people don't understand what they are. We are a team of business and healthcare professionals that care about each other, patients and communities, and are working to break down barriers to dental care.

More articles on dental:
22 states resuming dental procedures
Top 10 dental, DSO stories in April
Dentists urge Congress to allow Paycheck Protection Program loans to cover PPE purchases

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