Despite the growing popularity of telemedicine globally, Canada’s adoption of this technology has been slow. This is unexpected considering Canada was an early pioneer in the development of virtual care! Dr. Maxwell House of Memorial University of Newfoundland used telephone technology to provide virtual consultations to remote sites throughout the province in the 1970’s. Since then, Canada’s adoption of telemedicine has nose-dived. According to the 2015 Canadian Telehealth Report, there were only 411,778 telehealth clinical sessions in 2014, representing just 0.15% of the 270.3 million billable services. This is unfortunate considering 41% of Canadians would like to have video visits with their health care provider, according to Canada Health Infoway.
Although the timeline is uncertain, telemedicine’s global growth and increasing demand could indicate teledentistry’s significant adoption in Canada in the near future. For this reason, we thought it would be worthwhile to cover the value of teledentistry, especially now when dental practices are experiencing the negative effects of COVID-19. This article will discuss the categories of teledentistry, it’s use cases, it’s benefits, and the best way to implement teledentistry in your practice.
What is Teledentistry?
Teledentistry refers to the use of telehealth systems and methodologies in dentistry. Dental practices utilize telecommunication tools to offer services to patients in different physical locations. There are two categories of teledentistry:
Real-time interaction between patient and provider utilizing a data or video conferencing tool, such as Zoom or Simplifeye.
Transfer of the patient’s recorded health information (radiographs, photographs, video, digital impressions) through an electronic communications system to a provider. The provider then evaluates the patient’s information outside of real-time interaction.
How Dentists Use Teledentistry
Teledentistry is not a replacement for physical dental examinations. However, dentists have found effective ways to utilize this technology to treat their patients. Some use cases we found include emergency patient evaluation, orthodontic consultations, oral health education, and remote care in nursing homes.
Emergency Patient Evaluation
During COVID-19, teledentistry has proven itself to be a valuable tool for dentists to evaluate urgent patients and measure the severity of their condition. It is easier for dentists to assess patients with face-to-face conversations using video conferencing tools, rather than communicating with patients over the phone. For example, patients can actually show dentists their chipped tooth or gum abscesses in a video chat.
Dentists have found value in teledentistry for non-emergency orthodontic appointments. Through video conferencing, they can treat simple issues such as aligner issues or poking wires.
Remote Care in Nursing Homes
Many factors can inhibit senior citizens from visiting the dentist’s office, including mobility issues or compromised immune systems. Teledentistry allows dentists to treat senior citizens remotely, circumventing these barriers. The Foundation For Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine conducted a study to evaluate the accuracy of teledentistry for diagnosing dental pathology, assessing the rehabilitation status of dental prostheses, and evaluating the chewing ability of older adults living in nursing homes. The study found that teledentistry showed excellent accuracy for diagnosing dental pathology in older adults living in nursing homes, and its use may allow more regular checkups to be carried out by dental professionals.
Oral health education
A lesser known use case for teledentistry is conducting oral health classes with patients. I spoke to several dentists who have utilized video conferencing tools to offer smoking cessation counseling or proper oral care classes for kids. This is a great way to remain engaged with your patients while dental practices are shut down.
Benefits of Teledentistry
Teledentistry provides several benefits including increased safety, added revenue, and increased access to care in rural areas.
COVID-19 has made it risky for patients to physically enter dental practices for treatment they need. Teledentistry is an effective way to treat your patients while maintaining a safe distance.
Shelter-in-place orders and mandatory shutdowns have had a negative impact on dental practices nationwide. Offering virtual appointments is one way you can continue to make your practice money despite these restrictions.
Increased Access to Care in Rural Areas
Teledentistry allows dentists and patients to connect regardless of their physical location. This could be particularly valuable to a country like Canada, where it’s population of nearly 38 million citizens are distributed across a vast geographic area. According to the University of Western Ontario Medical Journal, Canada’s widespread geography has created an urban concentration of medical care and left most rural areas severely underserved. Teledentistry could be a useful tool to help citizens of less-populated and underdeveloped regions access oral health services. It could potentially make treatment more cost-effective and accessible by lowering costs through reducing the need to travel.
How to Implement Teledentistry in Your Practice
Successfully implementing teledentistry at your practice takes a bit of work. If you decide to take this route, here are a couple steps to help you add this service to your practice.
Choose a Teledentistry Platform
The first step of choosing the best teledentistry software is to create a list of solutions that interests you. Here are a couple vendors to help you get started:
- Simplifeye is a 24/7 live web chat service equipped with a teledentistry platform.
- Doxy.me is a standalone telehealth platform that allows you to conduct video chats, text & email patients, and process payments.
- Solutionreach is a patient communication system equipped with telehealth functionality.
The second step is to conduct research for each solution on your list. If you need help, SoftwarePundit is a technology research firm that provides in-depth analysis on many teledentistry solutions.
The third step is to contact existing users. This is a great opportunity to gain unbiased insight into the company. Use this Facebook Group as a forum to discuss dental technology with other dentists and dental professionals.
The fourth step is to complete the sales process. This step typically includes:
- Scheduling a demo
- Testing the product
- Negotiating the contract
- Implementing the software
- Training your staff
Setup Online Billing
If you are going to be accepting payment for the services rendered through teledentistry, you will need to set up your billing processing. If your practice already offers online billing, this will be a seamless transition. If not, consider using an online payment processing tool to augment your virtual appointments.
Educate Your Patients
What’s the point of purchasing a teledentistry tool, if your patients don’t know you offer this service? Use these marketing strategies to make sure your patients know you are available for teledentistry appointments.
- Text, email, or call your patients to inform them of your practice’s teledentistry capabilities.
- Place a banner on your website encouraging patients to book teledentistry appointments
- Use your social media platforms to engage patients, and notify them that you’re available for virtual appointments.
About the Author
Bruce Hogan is Co-Founder and CEO of SoftwarePundit, a technology research firm that provides advice, information and tools to help dental practices successfully adopt technology. From highlighting industry-specific trends to delivering extensive software guides, SoftwarePundit helps dental practices select the best software for their needs.