In view of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the dynamics of mundane ‘normality’ has shifted. These are unprecedented times and according to numerous studies this continually-evolving mass mayhem may have given rise to a ‘new normal’ for the healthcare system, especially the dental industry to operate. A patient’s access to basic oral healthcare was initially thought to have been compromised owing to the current global climate that encourages dental practices to remain closed for elective dental procedures in order to minimize physical contact between dental practitioners and patients and manufacture a reformed process of infection control and condemned safety. This remote dental function, however, inspired most dental practices to begin offering teledentistry services to help the patients access their prerogative rights of dental care.
What is teledentistry?
“Teledentistry” is a new intuitive process of using information-based technologies and communication modulations, including interactive audio and video systems to deliver a proprietary model of virtual dental care to people separated by different geographic terrains. It is a concept that enables dentists to incorporate telemedicine into their dental care systems and communicate with patients located in underserved or remote areas via remote consultations and advanced monitoring facilities. Dentists are also able to establish a vantage point for better quality services by collaborating and discussing with other specialists across the board.
Telehealth is not a specific service, but a means of delivering medical, health, and education services. It is a reflection of a wider chain of care in the ever-changing dental landscape- a value-added service for patients and dentists alike. In support of this treatment concept, Parks Associates reports that 60% of the U.S. households with broadband access “are interested in remote care that would take place online or by telephone.” Teledentistry is changing the way dentists access patients.
Evidence in favor of teledentistry
The original concept of teledentistry was developed as part of the blueprint for dental informatics, states the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). Evidence from a military project of the U.S. Army (U.S. Army’s Total Dental Access Project in 1994) that was incorporated with a high-tech integrated teledentistry service demonstrated that teledentistry reduced patient care costs significantly. Worldwide, this concept has been adopted to reinforce better dental services in an environment of social and economic downfall.
The results of the Tel-e-dent study of older adults living in 8 nursing homes in Germany and France was quoted in the article ‘Accuracy of teledentistry for diagnosing dental pathology using direct examination as a gold standard’. Teledentistry and clinical examination were simultaneously conducted for 7 days. The results detected that teledentistry was faster by 12 minutes as compared to the face-to-face exams and the assessment of dental pathology was accurately represented.
How can dentists benefit from teledentistry?
Teledentistry allows for dentists to increase their accessibility to patients and specialists while shortening appointment time and patient cost. Previous accounts and reports have shown the wide array of benefits offered by this archaic concept.
According to the American Teledentistry Association (ATDA), teledentistry allows to:
- Improve the patient’s dental hygiene practices
Visits to dental offices have seen a steady decline since 2003. By using telehealth services to connect the providers with their patients, this online portal is able to effectively improve the oral health and hygiene of the patients with great convenience.
- Be a more innovative solution for mainstream dental healthcare
Telehealth has been implemented in rapidly increasing hospitals and clinics with a 52% of hospitals utilizing teledentistry services in 2013. This figure continues to increase over the years with its gaining popularity and awareness.
- Connect with the patients according to their convenience
Recent studies on the use of telehealth services have provided data of about 70% of patients being comfortable in communicating with their dentists via text, call, or video call services. What’s more, 76% of patients prioritize access to dental care over the need for face-to-face interactions with their dentists.
- Improve access to patients
Approximately 20% of Americans live in rural areas where access to dentists become virtually impossible unless they are willing to travel for a long time. Teledentistry eliminates the need to travel long distances.
- Reduce the time spent by employees
Teledentistry reduces the time taken for your dental staff to assess every patient. In fact, appointments can take hours out of an employee’s work day. Teledentistry helps eliminate this wastage.
- Provide the same level of care as in-office visits but at a cheaper price
Research indicates that the quality of care provided through teledentistry is not compromised as compared to in-office services. Furthermore, it is cheaper for the patient to invest in telehealth than contacting a dentist for treatment, face-to-face.
- Keep a steady growth going
Utilization of telehealth services was indicated at 250,000 patients in 2013. An estimated of 3.2 million patients began using these services in 2018.
How to set up your teledentistry services?
Before you start researching on the right kind of service provider to associate with, you need to be aware of the regulatory policies concerning teledentistry. COVID-19 prompted many telecommunication modalities such as Zoom, Skype, and other third-party tools to ease the burden of hospitals and keep as many non-emergency cases away from the ER. These services are, however, hypo-productive for your practice in the long-run.
According to ADA Policy on Teledentistry, teledentistry technologies will be licensed in the state where the patient receives services as otherwise authorized by the state’s dental board. Your practice will also have to be compliant with the HIPAA guidelines to initiate teledentistry services. In order to set up teledentistry services for your practice, you need to be updated on the ever-changing information on virtual consultations and evaluation mandates, recommendations and guidelines that are being issued by your state. Check for your state dental boards and insurance companies on what you can and cannot implement on the Center for Connected Health Policy (CCHP) site.
A potential long-term closure plan for your dental office, in light of the current situation, means you will have to begin setting up your teledentistry services immediately.
- Choose the right platform (appropriate software) that enables you to form a comprehensive package for your patients and provide them with an end-to-end quality solution.
- Advertise your teledentistry services to your patients. You can try email broadcasts to inform them of your newly opened service.
- Schedule an appointment (when you will be available) and allow it to seamlessly integrate into your schedule. This may be limited by your provider and service. This option sends reminders to your patients of the booked appointment.
- Have a team member triage the patient first. Whether it is a new patient or an old, recurring one, make sure one of your dental staff gathers all their information (medical reports), updates their medical insurance, history, and method of payment.
- Once all the necessary information has been gathered, you can schedule an appointment with the patient. Connect by way of high-resolution video platform or by chat or audio calls.
- If medications are to be prescribed, recommend them to the patient. In case you need to bring in the patient for a manual examination, call in for an appointment.
Teledentistry allows you to connect with your patient through this difficult time and assure them that you are always available. The ADA recognizes that patients would be best served when telecommunication technology can be leveraged to support dental care. The ADA offers dental offices to navigate and resolve issues related to coding and billing for virtual oral care on their site. Click here to learn more: COVID-19 Coding and Billing Interim Guidance: Virtual Visits.