Three in four dentists who are using teledentistry anticipate a steady or increased reliance on the technology over the coming months as they continue to navigate the pandemic and resume routine care, according to an August survey of nearly 2,800 dental providers across 20 states by the DentaQuest Partnership for Oral Health Advancement.
Also, 23% of dental providers now see patients via teledentistry or virtual platforms, and 11% of providers who aren’t currently using the technology plan to use it in the near future. This rate is consistent with the 27% of providers who were seeing patients virtually in June when dental offices were largely limited to urgent and non-elective services.
“The numerous challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to providers and the oral health community has created a real opportunity for a new path forward in dentistry,” said Dr. Sean Boynes, vice president of health improvement at the DentaQuest Partnership for Oral Health Advancement.
“Now is the time for innovation, to create a new model of oral healthcare, one that will be cost-effective, efficient, and more equitable for all. What we’re seeing is that telehealth adoption and application is fast becoming a key tool for dentists to provide care that enhances disease prevention and whole-person health,” said Boynes.
Teledentistry via phone calls and video conferencing software has been used to provide COVID-19 symptom screenings, oral exams, referrals, patient triage, pain management, and oral hygiene instruction. While dental providers primarily use it to prescribe medication and triage patients, there is a significant opportunity to expand its use for more preventive services, DentaQuest said.
Public health settings used teledentistry the most, as well as providers in Pennsylvania, Washington, Florida, Kentucky, and Arizona, likely as a result of favorable payment and coverage policies in those states.
Also, providers who aren’t seeing their patient volume return to near-normal levels, who serve primarily Medicaid patients, and who anticipate long-term changes in dentistry said they were more likely to embrace teledentistry. Dentists with more than half of their patients enrolled in Medicaid were 39% more likely to use teledentistry platforms.
As a result of teledentistry use, providers are finding increasing opportunities for financial stability. Teledentistry users are 34% more likely to be familiar with alternative payment models (APMs) and 45% more likely to have an increased interest in learning about APMs.
As the oral health industry begins to embrace value-based care and shift toward APMs, telehealth can provide additional revenue while enhancing dental care access for current and new patients, DentaQuest said. This trend also can offer cost savings by providing access to primary and preventive care and keeping patients out of emergency departments for non-emergency dental needs, DentaQuest continued.
As growth in teledentistry use continues in oral health, permanent policy changes are vital for the widespread adoption of teledentistry-enabled preventive services, minimally invasive care, and care coordination, DentaQuest said.
Providers and state policymakers should act now to ensure that policies permit members of the dental workforce to deliver teledentistry services as well as update reimbursement policies so that both public and private insurers cover remote provider-patient interactions through live video or store-and-forward mechanisms, DentaQuest said.
“Telehealth brings a wide range of benefits to the future of oral healthcare. It is key to expanding value-based care in our communities and improving outcomes for both oral health and overall health,” said Dr. Myechia Minter-Jordan, president and CEO of the DentaQuest Partnership for Oral Health Advancement and Catalyst Institute.
“As we continue to leverage telehealth as a short-term solution for the pandemic, we must ensure its longevity to make it part of the dental ecosystem moving forward. That means taking necessary steps right now to remove barriers that may prevent the widespread adoption or utilization of telehealth in the future,” Minter-Jordan said.