5 ways teledentistry can improve the oral health system

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As we continue to navigate the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 public health emergency and look to the future, the long-term benefits of telehealth for providers and patients are becoming evident, including in oral health care. The value of teledentistry was discussed at length in the December 2021 Spotlight on Mobile and Teledentistry in Dental economy.1 Value considerations for teledentistry include the ability to use technology to improve patient access to dental services at a cost that patients can afford and reduce dental practice overhead.

This value proposition was demonstrated at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, when in-person visits were limited and many dental providers incorporated teledentistry into their practices to ensure they could continue to help. patients to access care, triage their needs and communicate treatment recommendations. And while teledentistry was supposed to improve access and reduce costs, research on it was limited, particularly on the types of follow-up treatments provided after a teledentistry visit.


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To fill this gap, the CareQuest Institute for Oral Health, a leading national nonprofit organization focused on creating a more accessible, equitable, and integrated oral health system, reviewed the data on dental claims of the CDT code on oral health outcomes in a sample of approximately 60,000 patients with in-person or teledentistry visits.

The results of this research2 indicate that teledentistry can increase access to oral health care and reduce costs now and after the pandemic.

1: Teledentistry care is well suited to triaging patients and maximizing chair time

Data from the CareQuest Institute shows that teledentistry was a valuable and well-used tool for patient care during the height of the pandemic and led to timely in-person consultations. and virtual tracking.

Of the survey sample, 3,562 (5.9%) patients had a teledentistry visit. Of these, 97% had in-person follow-up visits, most of which (60%) occurred within three weeks of their first virtual visit. Follow-up care after a teledentistry visit consisted primarily of diagnostic and restorative services and less often of preventive care. According to the data, six out of 10 people who had a teledentistry visit went on to have a problem-focused assessment during their next in-person visit.

Those who had a teledentistry visit were more likely to have restorative care (minor and major), diagnostic services, prosthodontic care, or oral surgery or an endodontic procedure during their first in-person visit than those who did not have a teledentistry visit (Figure 1).

Although less common, teledentistry has boosted the use of preventive care, such as oral hygiene instructions and nutritional counseling, during the virtual visit and caries risk assessment during follow-up. Providing services such as caries risk assessment, patient education, or setting self-management goals through teledentistry more often or even routinely enables greater use of preventive care and empowers patients to better manage their oral health.

These results demonstrate that providers can use teledentistry to successfully communicate with patients, triage patient needs, and schedule in-person visits more effectively. Importantly, teledentistry care triage allows for strategic use of chair time to provide more definitive and complex procedures, such as oral surgery, endodontic procedures, and restorative care.

2: Teledentistry visits save money compared to in-person visits

Teledentistry also saves money, a key part of delivering value-based care. The CareQuest Institute study2 suggests cost savings of approximately 10% to 15% for teledentistry visits compared to in-person visits. According to the data, teledentistry visits cost less on average, at $99 per visit, than in-person visits, which cost an average of $114 per visit.

3: Teledentistry benefits patients with less access to care

The study found that teledentistry made it easier for people in rural areas to access dental care. Rather than traveling long distances for preventative or simple diagnostic services, patients were able to receive restorative or other definitive treatments when they visited the dental office for in-person care. According to the research, teledentistry was used more often by people living in rural areas (13%) than by those living in suburban (10%) or urban (6%) areas.

4: Dental professionals are ready to accept teledentistry

The study results presented above follow a report by the CareQuest Institute that is based on the results of three surveys of dental team members in Oregon and Washington during the implementation work of teledentistry.3 These surveys explored how attitudes towards teledentistry changed over the course of six months as providers gained experience with virtual workflows and new software within their practices.

In surveys, more than three-quarters of providers believed that using a teledentistry platform increased access to care for patients.

About half of providers agreed that using a teledentistry platform increased patient satisfaction and helped reduce patient wait times for an appointment. Many agreed that the use of teledentistry can help provide accurate diagnoses, prescribe medications, and make referrals. Additionally, nearly 85% of providers said dental professionals were willing to accept teledentistry as a method of care delivery.

The survey results show that dental providers are open to teledentistry and that it can play a crucial role in improving access to care and the quality of care.

5: Teledentistry can offer long-term benefits to providers and patients

This new research indicates that dental teams can use teledentistry to support comprehensive, integrated care that improves quality at lower cost to the patient. and supplier. Teledentistry is a great example of value-based care because it has the potential to increase access to care at lower cost.

Beyond the pandemic, teledentistry holds great promise for improving and increasing access to dental care. Providers can use this modality to enable comprehensive, risk-based, integrated care that improves quality at lower cost.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the June 2022 print edition of Dental economy magazine. Dentists in North America can take advantage of a free print subscription. Register here.

References

  1. Croley DW. The value that teledentistry visits bring to dentists and their patients. Dental economy. December 9, 2021. Accessed March 7, 2022. https://www.dentaleconomics.com/macro-op-ed/article/14213045/the-value-teledentistry-visits-bring-to-dentists-and-their-patients
  2. Heaton LJ, Thakkar-Samtani M, McLeod CD, Tranby EP. Teledentistry makes it possible to provide the right care at the right time. CareQuest Institute for Oral Health. February 2022. doi:10.35565/CQI.2022.2001 https://www.carequest.org/resource-library/teledentistry-helps-provide-right-care-right-time
  3. Crouch B, McLeod CD, Kelly A, Tranby EP. Oral health professionals are ready to embrace teledentistry. CareQuest Institute for Oral Health. September 2021. doi:10.35565/CQI.2021.2042 https://www.carequest.org/resource-library/oral-health-professionals-are-ready-accept-teledentistry
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