In a (post) pandemic world, where the population is more aware of the risks of airborne transmission and “work from anywhere” has become de rigueur, some patients will avoid commuting to the dental practice as often. But that doesn’t mean a dental practice should give up on the relationships it has built. By utilizing remote virtual methods like videoconferences to execute consultations and diagnoses, clinicians can conveniently connect with patients from the comfort and security of their homes.
The judicious continued use of teledentistry also offers patients the opportunity to include guardians or family members who may not be able to accompany the patient to an in-clinic appointment.
When implemented strategically, virtual consultations and treatment planning can increase practice efficiency (and by extension, profitability): a win-win situation for both practices and patients.
Embracing technology means continually being open to new ideas and solutions that provide benefit to patients, the morale and wellbeing of the team or the bottom line (in that order). Dentists who avoid the use of digital technologies will eventually find themselves at a competitive disadvantage. With virtual care, the technology merely provides an additional medium of communication; the real value lies in the convenient experience provided to patients.
The following tips can help oral care professionals provide a convenient and secure virtual patient experience.
1. It is essential to ensure patient privacy while providing virtual care. Privacy Commissioners in several provinces have published guidelines on the safe and secure delivery of virtual care, including ensuring the patient is joining from a private location, consents to the use of the technology, and uses a secure internet connection. Practitioners should consult relevant publications from their jurisdiction’s dental and privacy regulators before commencing virtual treatment planning.
2. Leveraging virtual aids to explain treatment plans, including intraoral 3D scans, radiographs, digital images, and videos, offers an engaging experience for patients and can help them clearly understand the reasons for – and benefits of – their proposed treatment. Whether chairside or virtually, showing patients what’s happening inside their mouths can help them take an active role and interest in their oral health.
3. It’s important for practitioners to remember to preserve the same level of professionalism with virtual dentistry as they would in person. The trust and safety of patients is paramount, and so much of that is tied to chairside manner. When utilizing virtual treatment planning, the ethical duties owed by a healthcare professional to a patient remain.
4. Maintaining good record keeping and clinical progress notes is as important for virtual visits as in-person visits. Practitioners should include the details of the discussion including questions asked by the patient and any treatment decisions made. They should also be sure to plan for follow-up appointments.
5. It’s crucial to know the limitations of teledentistry. While virtual treatment planning provides a comfortable and convenient experience for patients, it’s not always appropriate. In some instances, specific conditions/pathologies cannot be diagnosed without an x-ray or other diagnostic tests, and thus virtual care cannot fully replace an in-person intraoral examination.
Operating a successful practice isn’t only about being a great dentist; it’s about the exceptional experience provided to patients – whether that be in a clinic or behind a screen.
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