Dentistry beyond COVID: teledentistry
Paul Abrahams considers the advantages of teledentistry, outside of the obvious health and safety benefits.
In the wake of the pandemic, businesses of all sizes and sectors across the globe were forced to fast-track digital transformation and enable remote working.
The dental profession hasn’t escaped the need to go virtual. Teledentistry is just one of the ways clinicians have had to adapt, evolve and innovate to maintain continuity of patient care. But is it here to stay? I think the clear answer is yes.
I believe teledentistry remains a critical component of a resilient practice model. Improving access to care – and helping to reduce costs – can provide advantages outside of the obvious health and safety benefits long after COVID-19.
The ‘anytime, anywhere’ element of teledentistry is particularly appealing to my colleagues and I managing busy waiting lists.
Virtual dental appointments are incredibly flexible. You can schedule them in quick succession as you eliminate the necessary cleaning and disinfecting between chairside meetings. This means that you can engage with more patients each day.
In my experience, virtual consultations also seem to be resulting in a higher quality patient coming through to the bricks and mortar practice. Treatment acceptance (or conversion) rates are also very encouraging, which helps to maximise chair time.
A platform like Chairsyde affords advantages. In addition to assisting both virtual and in-person consultations, it also creates individual diaries for each dentist in the practice for optimal time management.
In addition, clinicians can share their portfolio with patients through the system to further encourage treatment acceptance.
For patients, they can access convenient online booking, send information or list questions prior to their consultation and watch animations to support understanding of treatment options.
What’s more, the entire platform records all conversation and saves time stamps for medicolegal purposes.
It should also be noted that virtual dental appointments don’t necessarily have to be conducted by a dentist. Instead, another member of the team can hold them – such as a treatment coordinator. This frees up the dentist’s time for active treatment.
Teledentistry appointments could also be harnessed by others in the practice, such as the oral health lead. There is potential to use this modality as an effective channel for providing advisory and support services for a variety of patients.
Something like this could benefit individuals who are less willing to come into the practice. For example, older patients with dentures that just need direction in preventing mouth sores or improving comfort. Or, mums with babies looking for guidance on how to clean young mouths.
You could also use this to triage patients. Therefore, dentists encourage those who need to come in.
Business resilience has to be a key factor in continuing to embrace virtual communications. While another global pandemic in our lifetimes is unlikely, there are ‘force majeure’ style scenarios. Quickly switching to a tried and tested virtual patient-practitioner communication style will protect continuity of care.
So, it seems like teledentistry has the potential to lead to a transformation of standard dental practices far beyond the COVID era. I believe this will be hugely beneficial to both dentists and patients.