The COVID-19 outbreak forced every industry to go remote and virtual—including dentistry. Dental practitioners are progressively adapting to this shift, and one measure is through teledentistry.
Teledentistry involves the transfer of clinical information and images for dental checkups through an audio or video call. This method enables dentists and patients to continue consultations in the comfort of their homes. Teledentistry also minimizes the risk of COVID-19 transmission, especially when both parties are asymptomatic.
How can dentists maintain their relationship with their patients without face-to-face interaction?
Dr. Alan Stern, DDS is a dental practitioner in New Jersey with over 40 years of experience. He considers teledentistry as an opportunity for dentists to build relationships with their patients, especially during the pandemic. He refers to teledentistry as a vital communication tool, even after the pandemic. It can reduce the number of patients coming into your clinic since you can qualify people for dental treatment via teledentistry first before paying you a visit.
What teledentistry can do
Teledentistry allows dentists to meet their patients where they are, without endangering the patients’ health and their own safety. Assessing a patient is feasible through video conferencing, live chat, screen sharing, and more. So, why risk an office visit when you can diagnose a patient remotely? Plus, teledentistry does not just make your dental consultations more efficient. It can make building better relationships possible.
Dr. Stern believes that the COVID-19 crisis carries some opportunities to redefine dentists’ priorities and their practices as sources of health, healing, and hope. Everyone still has the chance to connect, not just as patient and dentist, but as human beings.?
How to connect with your patients via teledentistry
Teledentistry has opened the door to use your out-of-chair times to build relationships with your patients.?
Here are Dr. Stern’s four ways to effectively connect with patients through teledentistry:
1. A standard teledentistry session should last for about 30 minutes to an hour, especially for new patients. Typically, 15 to 30 minutes is enough to screen or diagnose the patient. The rest is a time for you to get to know them and establish a relationship.?
2. It is up to you when you want to hold your teledentistry sessions. It can be during your patients’ work breaks or even after clinic operating hours. You can also ask your patients for the schedule most amenable to them. Give the patient a heads-up through a call or send them a message at least 30 minutes before the appointment to prepare and set up.
3. It is a practitioner’s discretion whether to charge for teledentistry or not. For Dr. Stern, teledentistry is a value-added service since it allows you to connect and qualify patients remotely. Hence, he does not charge his patients any fees for virtual sessions.
4. How do you deal with no-shows? Unfortunately, some patients don’t show up, even in teleconsultations. You can make a judgment call whether to impose a no show-fee or not.
According to Dr. Stern, you can approach this in two ways:?
–Allow rescheduling, or
–Waive the no show-fee for first-time cancellations, but charge on the next missed appointment.
These recommendations are based on Dr. Stern and his team’s experiences. Knowing and applying these steps will not just help you with your practice. It will also help your patients understand that it is all about serving them and meeting their needs. Ultimately, dental practitioners can best figure out what works for their practice.??
Dos and Don’ts in Teledentistry
Dr. Stern gave a few dos and don’ts when conducting teledentistry to help patients:
- Express empathy. Everybody needs a sense of connection, even in a business transaction. Most people, especially children, are afraid of dentists; showing empathy to your patient builds trust among patients. This approach is much needed, especially when there is no physical meetup. Trust helps patients stay loyal to your practice.
- Make your patients feel at ease and comfortable. Do not proceed into diagnosis or consultation directly. Inquiring about your patient’s family, career, or hobbies can help you find common ground. Doing so can help you get your patient’s attention and even make them feel at ease during virtual consultations.
- Maintain eye contact and be mindful of non-verbal cues. Patients can instantly tell if you are paying attention to them or not. Always look at them, make eye contact, and be mindful of your facial expressions and body posture. Non-verbal communication matters, especially on teleconsult sessions. Patients will see and feel your attentiveness and interest, even behind the device or camera.
- Listen generously. This concept lets you relate more to your patient and know more about their condition in a subtle yet effective way. All you have to do is use the magic phrase, “Tell me more.” This statement puts you and the patient on the same level of communication. By inviting them to speak, you convey your support and develop openness towards you.
- Do not quote fees. Do not quote prices for anything you cannot see thoroughly. Do not promise anything until you’ve examined it in 3D, especially if you don’t know the patient’s periodontal condition. It could get you into trouble.
- Do not diagnose without conducting examinations. Diagnosing is verboten, especially since states have different rules. Do not carry an analysis without an adequate assessment, particularly in prescription. Any mistake has a high price to pay both for the patient and dentist.?
Following these dos and don’ts will not only help you become better in conducting your teledentistry sessions but will also put your patients at ease with this kind of consultations.
Teledentistry: a better way to serve
Several dentists may still find working with technology tedious and uncomfortable. But adjusting your approach amid the pandemic can deepen your connections with your patients. We all need to understand that dentistry is more than just making profits; it is also about relationships. When a virus outbreak restricts us from getting closer, we should find ways to retain closeness with our patients despite physical limitations.
Now is the right time to focus on successfully serving your patients and delivering your services more convenient than stressful. Let teledentistry bring you the opportunity and convenience you need in this pandemic.