Teledentistry: Pathway To Prosperity

June 16, 2020

The New Normal
Starting with President Trump’s announcement that there was a national emergency due to the COVID-19 outbreak, changes to the business environment have been both constant and significant. Flights have been canceled en masse, and public transportation has been largely limited. We’ve also seen an enhanced migration of the consumer market to on-demand and online ordering platforms, and the foreshadowing of things to come as businesses attempt to cope with the new culture of social distancing. Everything has changed.

Dentistry During the COVID-19 Outbreak
The COVID-19 outbreak is expected to have a significant impact on several industries, including dentistry. On March 16, 2020, the American Dental Association (ADA) called for dentists to postpone their clinics’ operations. Dental practice owners were largely unprepared for this prolonged interruption of business. Currently, they are only allowed to attend to urgent and emergency procedures, which is causing predictable financial consequences across the industry.

The ADA is currently monitoring the economic impact of COVID-19 on dental practices. Here are some of the results of the data gathered by ADA:

  • On the week of March 23, 76% of dental practitioners were closed except for emergency patients. 19% of clinics are totally closed while 5% remained open but with a reduced patient volume.
  • On the week of April 6, 79% of dental practitioners were closed except for emergency patients. 18% were closed entirely and 3% remained open but with a reduced patient volume.

Embracing the New Normal in Dental Care
As the dental industry faces a ‘new normal’ when returning to business, the ADA strictly advises dentists to exercise professional judgment. There is also a need to purchase the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) to avoid virus transmission. Furthermore, once their business resumes, they should follow the Interim Mask and Face Shield Guidelines. The guidelines contain the following:

“The FDA has authorized the use of masks equivalent to the N95 during the pandemic period. Manufacturers approved can be found here.

ASTM has established performance levels for surgical masks based on fluid resistance, bacterial filtration efficiency, particulate filtration efficiency, breathing resistance, and flame spread.
• Level 1 masks have the least fluid resistance, bacterial filtration efficiency, particulate filtration efficiency, and breathing resistance.
• Level 2 masks provide a moderate barrier for fluid resistance, bacterial and particulate filtration efficiencies, and breathing resistance.
• Level 3 masks provide the maximum level of fluid resistance recognized by ASTM and are designed for procedures with moderate or heavy amounts of blood, fluid spray, or aerosol exposure.”

The above mentioned specifications are intended to aid dental practitioners in reducing the risk of coronavirus transmission. However, this does not eliminate the possibility of risk. They should not assume this will cover them from liability if a virus transmission takes place. Also, dentists should not neglect relevant laws, regulations, or rules adopted in their respective states.

Benco Is Gearing up for the ‘New Normal’
Chuck Cohen, Managing Director of Benco Dental, said that they are preparing to go back to business. Part of the preparation is to get a lot of N-95 masks. He said that dentists in the past haven’t used that level of the mask before. They are also working on getting additional resources for face shields as well as additional disposable clothing options. He also clarified that in preparing the resources, Benco will not be party to hoarding. “Hoarding is the opposite of rationing. It does no one any good for some dentists to have 400 boxes of N-95 masks on his or her shelf while other dentists don’t have any. So we’re going to work as best we can to ration our supplies.”

Evidently, things will be different for everyone. Dentists in the past have not used these types of masks and other protective equipment before. Yet, this crisis has given us the opportunity to review how we can improve the way that we do business. As always, your safety and satisfaction is a top priority. At Benco, we do our best to give you the products you need and always work hard for you.

How Teledentistry Supports You During Crisis
The COVID-19 outbreak has caused thousands of dental clinics all over the United States to close except for emergency situations. In these cases, teledentistry has become significant and profitable for dental practices.

What Is Teledentistry?
Teledentistry simply combines the words and concepts of ‘telecommunications’ and ‘dentistry’. It involves the exchange of clinical information and images for a dental consultation via remote treatment planning. Teledentistry can improve access to oral healthcare, enhance the delivery of oral healthcare, and lower its costs. It also has the potential to reduce the disparities in oral health care between rural and urban communities.

How Teledentistry Benefit Dentists During a Crisis
Here are some of the advantages of teledentistry that both dentists and patients can benefit from even in the midst of a crisis:

  • Safety
    Teledentistry is a safer option for both dentists and patients since COVID-19 prevention guidelines discourage physical contact. In short, teledentistry offers both safety and peace of mind.
  • Cost-efficient
    Currently, the health industry is still working on the PPE shortage. Because teledentistry is done virtually, all of those costs go out the window.
  • Accessibility
    One of the most intrusive obstacles for dentistry is finding availability that works well for both the patient and the dentist; so by offering a virtual optional, everything becomes easier. Teledentistry expands the schedule and removes the commute at the same time. Check-ups can now be done from anywhere, even at home.

Things to Consider
On her webinar with Benco Dental, Patti Digangi outlined some important factors to consider when performing teledentistry during the COVID-19 crisis.

  • Use optimal systems
    Digangi recommended the TeleDent platform, a system released by MouthWatch. It is designed to optimize workflow for more efficient communication. It also offers task delegation and management that is essential when delivering care. It has a simplified method for appointment scheduling, treatment sequencing, care coordination, and provider management.

TeleDent improves communication through live chat, audio recording, video conferencing, and screen sharing features. Ultimately, it helps dental professionals deliver the best care in the most effective ways possible. These features help to build trust and collaboration with dental teams, patients, and specialists.

Other platforms are available, too. Just make sure to pick one that offers both back office and care service oriented programs so that both you and the patient can enjoy in-office quality.

  • Teledentistry Regulation
    Dentists should consult their state board regarding regulations which vary per state. Some states have lightened the restrictions, but there is no guarantee that it will remain the same after this pandemic.

According to the ADA, FaceTime, Facebook Messenger video chat, Google Hangouts video, or Skype, are allowed for consultation. However, they cannot use Facebook Live, Twitch, TikTok, and similar video communication applications that are public.

  • Teledentistry Insurance Code
    There are two codes for each service that a dentist may provide:

    • D9995 (synchronous) is used when the procedure was delivered to the patient on the date of service.
      D9996 (asynchronous) is used when the information is stored and given to the dentist for subsequent review.

According to the ADA, these codes are used to document and report the added costs related to the delivery of services when a patient and their dentist are not in the same location.

There is still no guarantee that teledentistry will work the same after the pandemic, but for now, it seems to be a viable option that will surely evolve.