As if the dental market wasn’t already changing fast enough, enter COVID-19. Dentists across the country, from independent practitioners to those in large DSOs, are facing restrictions to provide only emergency care. With that, the list of challenges grows long, including how to retain and support employees, how to maintain relationships with existing patients until the public health crisis has abated, and how to survive financially.
Teledentistry—a way for dentists to communicate with patients virtually—may not be highest on the list of dentists’ priorities. But there are compelling reasons why it should be. The fact is that when the time comes to re-open for “normal business,” a new normal will exist, and teledentistry will be an important part of it.
Teledentistry has primarily been a tool to drive access to care in underserved areas. Although both federal- and state-funded payers reimburse for teledentistry – and most private payers do as well – there are only a handful of acceptable billing codes, and reimbursement dollars are often so limited that they are insignificant to a broader initiative.
The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed that. In just the last few weeks, teledentistry is now seen as a humanitarian tool essential to our overall healthcare ecosystem. The Health Policy Institute of the American Dental Association estimates that in normal circumstances, someone visits an emergency department every 14 seconds for a dental condition.
In our current climate, dentists are being called upon to assist in the triage and treatment of these patients through teledentistry. Patients can be screened via video chat or text chat with photos, antibiotics can be prescribed for infections to delay the need for emergent treatment, and truly emergent treatment can be scheduled for in-person visits to a dentist’s office. Dentists are therefore positioned to play a critical role in the overall public health response to the COVID-19 crisis by reducing the load being placed on local EDs.
The fabric of how we interact with each other as a society changes with each passing day of the coronavirus crisis. Once patients have had the ability to interact with their dental service providers via text and/or video chat, they are going to want to continue to have that option outside of a crisis scenario, making it difficult for payers to suddenly dial back reimbursements for teledentistry to pre-crisis levels. Additionally, other healthcare providers who have relied upon dentists as healthcare professionals proactively collaborating in crisis management in their communities will continue to hold dental service providers in high regard. And patients who have been offered ongoing communication, education, and care are likely to respond with loyalty extending long after the COVID-19 crisis is behind us.
In planning for that future state, we recommend a proactive response today, comprised of the following:
While these measures may seem simple, a well-informed, coordinated approach to teledentistry is the key to an initiative that will be successful in the near term and provide a foundation for the future. West Monroe is uniquely positioned to help dentists drive a teledentistry initiative through technology and industry expertise. Contact us if you’d like to talk more about your specific needs.
Have more time? Read Improving the Dental Patient Experience.