Martin Jablow, DMD, talks about how several technologies became more relevant due to the pandemic.
Q: How can we use what we learned during the pandemic in the post-pandemic environment?
A: Software products that allow for communication with patients are creating more efficient front desk workflows. Now that most dental offices are required to screen patients for COVID-19 viral symptoms, being able to communicate is essential. A text message to the patient the day before his or her appointment with a link to fill out the COVID-19 questionnaire results in saving the front desk valuable time as they now have to process many more forms and phone calls. Once the patient arrives, he or she can send a text message to the front desk and be informed when he or she can safely enter the office. Most offices like having fewer people congregating in the reception area; this will continue. And through the use of automated forms, the paperless office gets nearer for many practices.
During the early surge in pandemic cases, we were able to continue functioning with tracking our insurance claims, submitting to secondary insurance, and continuing to bill patients because of remote access software. This allowed us to keep our cash flow even when we had basically zero production. Using remote access will continue to help reduce costs as more of these tasks may be outsourced.
Q: Where does teledentistry fit in?
A: Teledentistry, an older technology, started to come into its own. The applications and programs can integrate many of our current digital dentistry processes, such as electronic patient records, digital images, practice management software, and more. Internet connections and remote access technology allow dentists to easily communicate with patients—and also with colleagues if opinions or referrals are necessary. Teledentistry can be a safer way to interact with patients during these difficult times by limiting, where appropriate, contact with patients. It can also increase efficiency for both patients and the dentist as a tool for remote monitoring and triage.
Teledentistry was a lifeline during the COVID-19 lockdown as a way to stay in contact with patients who were having perceived dental issues and to help control access to dental facilities and stop emergency room visits. In many instances, patients heard from the media that dental offices were closed and assumed their dentists were not available. This might have been true in some cases, but most dental offices were open for emergency treatment. Both current patients and new patients would call dental offices concerned about their dental health issues with the uncertainty that anyone was there to answer. Teledentistry was a leap in technology allowing face-to-face contact. If a true dental emergency presented, an appointment could be scheduled for triage with the appropriate staff and time required for setting up a safe environment. Teledentistry jumped in popularity as dental offices were figuring out ways to interact with patients.
Finding new ways to use teledentistry as we continue to deal with the pandemic includes getting “past the mask” for new patients who otherwise would never see the dentist in less than full PPE. This scheduling prior to the first appointment humanizes the experience. It allows for a more efficient initial visit with a brief conversation about the patient’s chief complaint or other dental concerns. A remote visit may reduce the number of no-shows for the initial appointment since the new patient has already committed time to the teledentistry visit. If the patient has not scheduled or has missed the teledentistry appointment, there is a higher likelihood they may miss the actual physical visit.
Another area where teledentistry makes sense is for postoperative visits. This makes it more convenient for both the patient and the doctor. For the patient, it eliminates filling out a COVID screening questionnaire, having to call to see if it is safe to enter the office, having his or her temperature taken, etc. All of these steps reduce costs to the dental office while improving the patient experience. And it can easily be explained that the dental office values the patient’s time. These are probably the best reasons to continue the use of teledentistry.
Q: Can teledentistry be effective in actual (remote) treatment?
A: During the office closures, many orthodontic aligner patients were able to continue treatment. With a teledentistry visit first to monitor tooth movement, and as long as the teeth were tracking correctly, the office could make arrangements for the patient to either pick up the next few aligners outside the office or have them sent to the patient. This kept patients and the office safe and allowed supervised treatment to continue. Simplifying the continuation of treatment will help dentists compete with the DIY orthodontic companies going forward as many of them are implementing this type of supervision.
All of these technologies will continue to be used long after the pandemic. They will allow the dental office to function more efficiently while continuing to keep patients safe, as we have always done. Dental technologies will continue to evolve and respond to the marketplace as they are incorporated into our new normal.
Dr. Jablow received his dental degree from New Jersey Dental School in 1986 and practices in Woodbridge, NJ. He has received Fellowships from the AGD and the International Association of Dental-Facial Esthetics and holds memberships in the ADA and the NJ Dental Association. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.