This year has been the most challenging that many people have experienced in their lifetimes. It’s been especially hard for those in the dental industry, including dental service organizations and group practices. With mandated closures, new infection control guidelines, and the need for more personal protective equipment, which became expensive and in short supply, operating one dental practice, let alone a small group or a DSO with hundreds of locations, became a test of perseverance and adaptability.
Fortunately, there was a technology solution available that could help dentistry persevere, adapt, and survive during COVID-19. Unlike a vaccine that needed to be developed or new equipment that needed to be invented to respond to the pandemic, teledentistry was a mature technology just waiting to be implemented. Ironically, it took an international health crisis to create the tipping point for teledentistry adoption.
Beginning in March, practice owners desperately needed a means to safely connect with their patients, conduct dental triage, implement virtual workflows, and cautiously perform emergency dental procedures, and they needed it ASAP. What’s more, they needed to alleviate the anxiety and maintain the trust of their patients.
Teledentistry platforms such as TeleDent by MouthWatch filled these needs and were the digital life preservers that legions of practice owners reached for during the first wave of closings. They will continue to be invaluable during the second wave, which has already begun.
We appear to be mired in a wash, rinse, repeat cycle of pandemic operations and procedures. Fortunately, COVID-19 will pass and the dental groups and DSOs that implemented teledentistry and continue to use it will experience new levels of growth. Teledentistry isn’t like an electric generator that gets put back in the garage after a hurricane; it is the new standard of operational efficiency and patient care.
Does it really make sense to go back to the time when your practice or organizations did not use teledentistry? If the technology was a professional-grade solution such as Teledent that was implemented correctly, your patients may be disappointed if you quit using it.
10 reasons why patients will want you to continue using teledentistry
1. Their worlds revolve around their smartphones: For better or worse, the smartphone has become an indispensable hub for your patients’ personal and professional lives. This includes one-to-one communication, email, social media, and managing their health by scheduling appointments and researching insurance plans and health-care providers. There’s no way around it; today’s dentists need to be at the fingertips of their current and prospective patients.
2. They are already using telemedicine: Most of your patients already have the option of connecting with their physicians, hospitals, and outpatient clinics via virtual consults and patient portals. Most health insurance providers heavily promote the telemedicine option in their plan overviews. You don’t want your patients to ask, “Why doesn’t my dentist offer this service? Am I receiving the most up-to-date care?”
3. They want you to respect their time: One of the biggest complaints that patients have about their dental appointments is that they often must take time off from work or take their kids out of school for the appointments, especially when it is a new-patient consultation or treatment follow-up. This is also a primary cause for cancellations.
4. They were never that into your waiting room: Sure, it maybe nicely furnished and have a cappuccino machine, but the operative word is “waiting.” Whenever appropriate, scheduling a virtual consultation where it’s 3-2-1, “Hello, Mrs. Smith!” is probably more appealing to many of your patients.
5. They are uncomfortable discussing treatment plans in a prone position: Being in a position of weakness prompts many patients to avoid committing to your treatment recommendations. A better approach may be to schedule a virtual consultation where the patient can speak eye-to-eye with the provider. When your patients are more comfortable, they’re also more likely to ask questions and become active participants in their oral health. The result is increased case acceptance.
6. Emergency rooms are scary: This is especially true in urban areas. Knowing that their dentist can be contacted via teledentistry when they have a dental emergency is very comforting to patients, especially when it involves a child’s dental trauma. Virtual triage by a dentist is much better than seeing an ER physician who is limited to prescribing antibiotics and pain medication. As skilled and vital as these medical colleagues are, they can only provide temporary relief without scheduling a dental appointment to resolve the problem.
7. Specialist referrals cause anxiety. When you tell patients that they have a condition too serious for you to treat, they generally become anxious. When you tell them that they need to go a different office and see a dentist they don’t know, their anxiety increases. To make matters worse, the traditional referral process consists of handing patients a referral slip or business card and telling them, “Make an appointment.” Often times that call never happens and their condition gets worse, resulting in increased patient discomfort and more expensive treatment.
It’s better to schedule a virtual introduction with a specialist so that he or she can discuss the recommended procedure, their qualifications, and answer any questions that the patient may have.
8. Homecare begins at home: Your hygienists can provide more homecare instructions virtually than in the office. Your patients can easily learn what they need to do without leaving their homes. These instructions can be scheduled as part of expanded hygiene department hours.
9. Risk mitigation is not for pandemics anymore: Every fall and winter is cold and flu season. Minimizing the number of patients in the office can help prevent the spread of these highly contagious diseases. This is especially important for your medically compromised patients. For them, a virtual consultation when appropriate may be the most prudent option. Office visits may be able to be rescheduled after the cold and flu season.
10. Off-site dentistry and hygiene opportunities will grow: The pandemic put a damper on the ability of practices to operate off-site hygiene services and pop-up dental clinics. Once things are back to normal, DSO and groups can use teledentistry to develop these supplemental business models to serve more patients and create additional revenue streams. The result can be growth and scalability that surpasses that of the years prior to COVID-19
There’s no doubt that teledentistry filled a critical need for DSOs and group practices that were coping with the pandemic. However, it will continue to prove its value when it comes to improving practice efficiency, profitability, and the overall patient experience long after COVID-19 has passed. Not only that, but it will also better prepare dentists so that they aren’t caught flat-footed during any future pandemics.
Brant Herman is the CEO and founder of MouthWatch LLC, (www.mouthwatch.com) a leader in innovative teledentistry solutions, digital case presentation tools, and intraoral imaging devices. The company is dedicated to finding new ways to constantly improve the dental health experience for both patients and providers. Contact Herman at [email protected].