Paul Labbe, DDS, explains how teledentistry helped him expand his pediatric group practice.
Q: When did you first consider adopting teledentistry? What problems were you trying to solve?
A: Our dental group started looking into teledentistry about 7 years ago. Early on in our community outreach efforts, we would have our booth set up at local community health fairs. Our goal at these events was to provide information about our practice, give away oral hygiene kits (each containing a toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, and basic hygiene instructions), and educate attendees on their oral conditions with a complimentary oral exam. Dental providers were typically at the health fair, along with several team members. The biggest challenges we faced with oral health screenings outside of the practice were:
1. Access to our practice management system for record keeping
2. How to record data (intake forms/pictures/radiographs)
3. Shared access of patient information between doctors, staff, and patients. We also had HIPAA concerns due to remote record keeping.
Q: How did you arrive at your final decision to implement teledentistry? How did you select a technology provider?
A: Our decision to implement teledentistry came from all of our experiences with community outreach, combined with my previous experience before and during dental school. While I was studying to become a dentist, I participated in many community and international oral health events ranging from basic oral health screenings to clinical delivery models where patients were screened at a community event and then transported to the dental school for treatment. One example of this was Project Homeless Connect at the University of the Pacific Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry.
We knew that teledentistry could help us cover a wider geographic area, operate more efficiently, and help more people. Our specific choice to implement TeleDent (MouthWatch) into our workflow was based primarily on its superior hardware and software integration. By using a Windows-based laptop, Internet connection, TeleDent software, and MouthWatch intraoral cameras, our team felt very comfortable deploying to remote locations.
Q: Has this technology improved access to care in the communities you serve, and how has it done so?
A: Yes, absolutely. We have implemented our screening process in local schools, health fairs, and community outreach events with great success. Many times, patients who simply have avoided the dentist are able to get a quick snapshot of their mouths, and when they see the pictures of their teeth and soft tissues, the visual information we provide enables them to take ownership of their oral health. What’s more, when a screening is completed, a doctor who is offsite can simply log into TeleDent and develop a risk assessment and a generalized diagnosis and treatment plan.
Q: Does teledentistry improve the overall patient experience? And if so, in what ways?
A: Teledentistry has improved the patient experience by informing the patient about what to expect before he or she goes into the actual clinic. As long as a definitive diagnosis is not given based on visual and intraoral pictures, the patient still needs to get radiographic images to confirm the diagnosis.
Also, patients who receive teledentistry screenings prior to visiting our clinics are more inclined toward treatment acceptance because the patient then comes into the office with increased awareness of his or her oral health.
Q: Overall, what has been your patients’ reaction to teledentistry?
A: We have experienced a tremendous amount of gratitude and acceptance due to our teledentistry program. Children have high acceptance of the intraoral camera, which is a contrast to getting a child to hold still for intraoral radiographs. Adults and teens also have high acceptance of the screening program, and they appreciate the high-tech approach to record taking.
Q: Can you attribute the growth of your pediatric dental group in part to teledentistry? What features or capabilities have had the most impact?
A: Teledentistry is a big part of our community footprint and growth. It is one of the most direct routes to new patient acquisition. We have also been able to give back to our community through oral health screenings and have improved the lives of many people. Teledentistry has been a win-win for our practice and community.
Q: Does teledentistry give you a marketing advantage? In what ways?
A: The marketing advantage teledentistry gives us is the direct-to-patient model of marketing. We are able to make a “visit” to the dentist as easy as taking a couple of pictures. It is those easy intraoral photographs that we believe make the first point of contact painless and high-tech. By using a closed loop of marketing with our own internal team, we have more control over our marketing efforts. This results in increased patient acquisition and retention.
Dr. Labbe is the co-founder of Planet Dental and Orthodontics, a pediatric group practice with 4 locations in the Laredo, Texas, area. He earned his DDS degree at the University of the Pacific Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry in San Francisco. Dr. Labbe was recently awarded a 2019 Teledentistry Innovators Award in recognition for his pioneering use of teledentistry to serve vulnerable populations in his community and the patients of his multiple office locations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.