As dentists continue to navigate the unstable landscape of treating patients during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to explore all possibilities of patient communication and treatment options. Teledentistry and mobile health (cell phone triage) may be appropriate components to incorporate into your practice’s COVID-19 treatment protocol. Communicating your capabilities to your current and prospective patients is just as important.
While every state has different laws regarding teledentistry, The United States Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) has relaxed HIPAA guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic. This added leniency provides dentists with an opportunity to implement teledentistry through a wider variety of channels.
Is practicing teledentistry right for you?
Most states have mandated that during the COVID-19 pandemic, dentists only treat emergency patients. Incorporating teledentistry into your practice’s treatment protocol provides dentists with an opportunity to do the following:
- Ease concerns of social distancing and still provide consultation to your patients.
- Have direct, face-to-face communication at a time when patients need it most.
- Schedule consultations for emergency and non-emergency treatments.
- Diagnose potential emergencies and identify other procedures that can be scheduled at a later date. This can be used as an acquisition tool when consulting with prospective patients.
- Prescribe antibiotics and pain medication, if the patient is experiencing a true emergency related to pain and infection. However, current opioid prescription guidelines still apply.
- Collaborate with specialists about a patient’s case, if that doctor is also using teledentistry.
- Teledentistry appointments can be monetized. The ADA has added a teledentistry coding and billing guide for dentists to use, in the hopes that it will help dentists understand how to bill appointments. The guide also provides instructions on how to work with insurance providers as part of this process.
From a longer-term perspective, as more dentists adopt teledentistry as part of their patient protocol, this tool may also foster better collaboration between general dentists and specialists during case presentation.
Why aren’t you practicing teledentistry?
When we ask our clients, “Why aren’t you practicing teledentistry?” we receive several answers:
- “I don’t know enough about teledentistry and how to set it up.”
- “I don’t think it will help our practice.”
- “I can just talk to patients over the phone.”
- “I don’t know.”
We have answered some of those concerns below and have outlined ways to communicate your teledentistry capabilities to your patients.
What is teledentistry?
The ADA has provided a concise explanation of teledentistry and offers a 1-CE credit course, Teledentistry in the Era of COVID-19, to help you better understand your teledentistry options as you navigate through the coronavirus pandemic.
For a quick definition, the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) has defined telehealth as utilizing any non-public facing audio or video technology to communicate with patients. Please keep in mind that all standards of practice, legal and professional obligations that apply to in-person care, also apply to teledentistry.
What are my teledentistry communication options?
There are actually several different teledentistry and mobile health options whether you choose to simply communicate via your mobile phone or tablet or via a dedicated private communication application.
Teledentistry communication options include:
- Mobile health (mHealth) – Including cell phones, tablet computers and personal digital assistants (PDA).
- Applications for video chats – Including Apple’s FaceTime, Facebook Messenger video chat, Google Hangouts video, or Skype.
- Dedicated telehealth web conferencing applications – The following are a few specific teledentistry applications we are seeing clients utilize:
Sites and applications that are not allowed for Teledentistry include:
Facebook Live, Twitch, TikTok, and similar video communication applications. These methods are public-facing, and should not be used in the provision of telehealth by covered healthcare providers.
How should I market my teledentistry capabilities?
If you incorporate teledentistry into your current COVID-19 patient treatment protocol, it’s equally important to communicate it to your current and prospective patients. Helping them understand how it works will empower patients to use teledentistry when they need you.
Stay tuned for our next blog about how to communicate your teledentistry capabilities to your current and prospective patients. If you have any questions about our teledentistry recommendations, please feel free to contact us at any time.