Full disclosure: As a dental public health specialist, I view the world through a slightly different lens than a clinical dentist. I work in academia, so my world is filled with research, health surveillance, health equity, identifying access-to-care issues, and finding solutions to overcome those issues.
Despite this, when I talk to my clinical colleagues, particularly those working in community health centers or in private practice settings, it is a personal goal not to be an academician touting all these ideas that work in the controlled academic setting but that might not be possible in a less controlled, real-world dental practice. By working in a controlled environment, I’ve been able to explore numerous ways to use teledentistry that I believe could benefit you. Think of it as a “teledentistry test kitchen.”
At the crossroads of public health and private practice
From mobile dental operations where a hygienist takes portable equipment into the field in a virtual dental home-type model to using direct-to-patient models (e.g., video conferencing to talk to the patient), I’ve seen firsthand just how wide-ranging the applications for teledentistry are. Because of this, I’ve been able to save my private practice colleagues the headache of figuring out how exactly teledentistry can work for them and how it can impact their ROI from both provider and patient perspectives.
When it comes to money, our clinic has faced challenges with getting reimbursed when we conduct exams via teledentistry. In Arizona, for example, our state Medicaid program doesn’t recognize the use of teledentistry for comprehensive (D0150) and periodic (D0120) exams. Further, it wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic that the program started reimbursing for limited (D0140) exams conducted via teledentistry.
Since 99% of the patients I work with don’t have private insurance, I can’t speak in-depth to those plans, but I did see a lot more movement during the pandemic from private companies. Regardless of the reimbursement challenges, should you, from a return on investment (ROI) standpoint, use teledentistry in your practice? My answer is yes. Even if you don’t think teledentistry is for you, I would encourage you to ask a different question: Is it for my patients?
All patients want to save time and money
Patients want to spend their money on dental care that will not just make them healthy but also save them time and money. Consequently, we explored the savings for patients when utilizing teledentistry. As an overview, we looked at using teledentistry in a way that connects patients to our dental clinic but doesn’t require them to show up at the dental school for the first several appointments.
Working with a community partner about 25 minutes from the school, we established ourselves in a community center, without having to open a brick-and-mortar dental clinic. In a model that uses hygienists as the first providers to meet patients, they collect all the necessary clinical data—photos, videos, radiographs, hard- and soft-tissue assessments, etc.—that enables the dentist to develop comprehensive treatment plans.
This is a higher-cost model of teledentistry…