Interview with Dr. Desai
When Dr. Shyam Desai had to temporarily close his 5 Connecticut orthodontics offices in March, he didn’t know what to expect. In his 12 years spent providing patients with the most advanced and comprehensive orthodontic care available, he had never faced such an uncertain challenge.
Over the past few months, Dr. Desai and his team have had to adjust their practice amid concerns about patient and employee safety, continuation of care, and economic hardship. Through it all, they’ve relied on myOrthos to help navigate this new normal.
We recently spoke with Dr. Desai about how he and his team have stayed sane during the COVID-19 pandemic.
You partnered with myOrthos in the beginning of February, and about a month later you shut down your office due to COVID-19. Why did you shut down, and what restrictions did you face?
We ended up shutting down on March 18th. It wasn’t required, but we thought it was the right thing to do in terms of patient safety. At that time, the infection rates were higher in the New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut area, so we wanted to do our part to help flatten the curve and take the burden off the hospital system.
In the beginning, we didn’t face many restrictions. New information was coming out every day, and it was overwhelming. You could read something one day, and the next day there would be a new recommendation, and then another new one the next day. It felt like: how could I ever figure out what I need to do to reopen again?
Personally for you, how did that impact your work? What were some of your concerns at that time?
The first concern is patient care. We can definitely manage a short closure of even up to a month, but having an open-ended closure was unsettling. It was important for us to communicate with our patients to let them know we were still taking care of them, because our patients’ teeth were still moving! Early on, because we didn’t know when we were going to open, we were just letting patients know that we were still there and only seeing patients who had an emergency during the time of closure.
How about your staff? Were you concerned about maintaining your team while the office was closed?
I’ve been with my team for over 10 years. I understand not only how much they love to work and see patients, but also what it means to them in terms of generating the income they need to provide for their families. I was concerned about what was going to happen to that, especially because we’d just partnered with myOrthos. It was no longer just my decision-making that mattered, because I was no longer technically their employer. There was a level of concern there to make sure they would be taken care of well.
How did myOrthos respond to your concern?
Ahead of our closure, myOrthos came in, and they had already outlined a generous plan for the first month of closure – they didn’t know, of course, how long we would be closed. They laid out what would happen each week regarding employees’ pay, and they did a really good job of making sure employees still had income. myOrthos showed that they really understand how important the team is. I couldn’t do what I do without my team. If I’d lost our team members when we were closed, it would have devastated the practice down the road.
Absolutely. When you started to reopen, what were some of the concerns you had?
All day every day, I was stressing over whether we were doing enough to keep the doctors, the team, the patients safe. We were trying to stay on top of all the new information coming out daily and were making decisions about our HVAC system, the PPE we needed to order, modifications to our procedures to reduce aerosols, etc. I was in constant communication with my team.
As we were approaching our reopening, myOrthos had us all go into the office for a full day without any patients, just to get used to being in the office. During that time, I was able to give my team a presentation on all the changes that we had made. For example, if we did something in the HVAC system, they might not have known what we’d done or what it would mean for them. I was focused on making sure they understood everything we did while we were closed so we could make our office the safest possible environment when we reopened.
CT Braces is pretty big. When you were remote, how did you continue to communicate so well and manage the team?
Well, I didn’t do it myself, I’ll tell you that. I relied on a combination of help from myOrthos and the management team I had set in place at CT Braces. We divided and conquered: I handled the training and communications with the assistants. Miguel, who’s the operations manager at CT Braces, worked along with Caitlin and Kristy and other myOrthos members to make sure our admin team was doing the best they could and making the changes they needed to make so we would be ready to reopen in a whole new way.
How did you communicate? What tools were you using?
With the team, it was mainly Zoom calls, plus emails. With patients, we use a text messaging platform called Podium. One of the new things we started doing is communicating in real-time via text with patients who called in with an emergency. To a patient with braces, anything that happens is an emergency, so we have to treat it like that, because they don’t know that a loose bracket doesn’t need to be attended to immediately unless it’s bothering or hurting them.
Using the text messaging platform, they can send us a picture, and we can say, ok, this part right here: use a nail clipper to take this part out, and you’ll be fine, and we’ll give you a call to schedule your appointment for when we’re open. It worked out very well.
How did reopening the office go, from an office morale standpoint? What's the delta between how employees thought they'd feel returning to work and how they actually feel now that you have these new protocols and procedures in place?
When we first reopened, I was anxious only because I knew other people would be. I asked myself: can I handle their anxiety? How will I react to it? I knew both patients and team members would be worried. Overall, though, people weren’t as anxious as I thought they would be, and now the team definitely has confidence in the protocols and the steps we’ve put in place with myOrthos to make our office a safe environment.
Every day, each employee receives a link via text that asks us basic survey questions about how we’re feeling and whether we’ve been exposed to COVID-19. It’s a great way to make safety consistent. It’s little steps like this, and like taking our team’s temperature when they come to the office, which make a huge difference.
Plus, I love the fact that we’re doing monthly testing on our team. It’s another extra step that makes everyone feel more secure.
What would you say to an orthodontist colleague who might be considering joining the myOrthos network?
I’ve talked to many in the last six months who are considering, and I always tell them that if they’re looking for a partner who will support their orthodontic office, they won’t find a better partner than myOrthos. I’ve only been with myOrthos for six months, which is not a long time. Having gone through a pandemic one month in, though, has really showed the quality of partner that myOrthos is. They’ve taken care of the team, they’ve supported my decisions regarding what we needed to do clinically and within the office – and not just supported them, but helped implement them and helped us get what we needed to open the office. And aside from how they helped in the pandemic on a day-to-day basis, I’ve seen myOrthos do a tremendous job in terms of helping out with administrative issues that orthodontists might want to offload, in terms of HR or collections or other non-clinical aspects of running an orthodontics practice.
If someone had told me myOrthos would do what they’re actually doing for my office, I would never have believed them. I would have thought it was a sales pitch. Six months into it, though, they have well exceeded my expectations. So far, the relationship has been great.