- Approximately 75 percent of hospitals in the U.S. are using telehealth to connect with their patients as of June 2020.
- Teledentistry can help keep patients from making unnecessary physical trips – While toothache is a top complaint for patients coming to emergency rooms, these departments are often not staffed with dentists who can tend to their needs.
- Pre-screening with a touchless dental visit can help you intervene on a patient’s concern before it progresses, and allows you to triage appropriately.
- The more patients you have coming in for online consultations, the safer your office will be, and the more room you’ll have in your books for the most urgent cases.
- Help your patients prepare for online consults effectively by sending reminders, communicating best practices for technology, and setting expectations appropriately about what can and can’t happen during a virtual visit.
- Explain virtual consults to patients as one way you are working on reopening your practice safely within state and local guidelines. Show by words and actions that the quality they can get with a virtual dental consultation can be just as good as a physical appointment.
Online dental consults: How you can leverage technology to make your in-office visits safer and more efficient.
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that many activities we normally conducted in-person could be translated into virtual environments in quicker and easier ways than we may have previously thought. While we’ve all turned “Zoom” into a verb like “Google,” we haven’t used this technology solely for work meetings and virtual happy hours. We can also apply this growing trend to teledentistry, and telehealth in general.
The hospital trends for telemedicine as of June 2020 paint the picture well: About 75 percent of hospitals in the U.S. are using telemedicine to connect with their patients, a huge jump from 33 percent of inpatient and 45 percent of outpatient hospitals in 2019. Growing adoption of online consultations, plus patients adjusting quickly to this new normal during COVID-19, means that employing online dental consults at your practice won’t be as confusing to your patients as it may have been even a year ago.
So, how can you best take advantage of online dental consults to make your in-office environment safer and more efficient during the pandemic, and beyond? We’ll go over the benefits of teledentistry, how you can leverage online consultations effectively, and how you can communicate your adoption of virtual consults as a way to abide by state and local guidelines, while still providing personalized treatment and solid dental advice during a touchless dentist appointment.
Benefits of Teledentistry
You can save your patients from making unnecessary physical appointments
Virtual consults can help prevent unnecessary trips to both the ER and your dental office. Emergency room visits are costly for everyone involved. And while it’s hard to accurately determine how many trips for emergency care are avoidable, toothache was listed as the number one complaint at emergency departments in a study published in 2017.
Outside of the expense, emergency facilities are generally ill-equipped to deal with dental issues. Most EDs don’t have dentists on staff, so patients receive painkillers, antibiotics, and a dental referral, which adds on an extra appointment and associated costs anyway.
You can intervene on your patient’s problem before it progresses
Imagine if patients had easier access to a virtual dental consultation and preventative care. Teledentistry helps patients manage their problems before they grow bigger by offering an initial online dental consult. This virtual consult can help you determine whether what the patient is experiencing requires emergency care. If the problem is something you can handle at a later date, you can instruct them on at-home treatment methods and order prescriptions until they can come in when it’s safer to see more patients.
More virtual visits mean more in-office availability and safer conditions for all
If the issue is truly an emergency, you can get your patient prescribed with what they need right away during the virtual visit and determine the best date for them to come in. Because your patients aren’t wasting time visiting the emergency room first, and aren’t coming into your office for less urgent matters, you can fit in your higher-priority patients faster, and keep visits to your office at a minimum.
How to Use Online Consults Effectively
One unintended side effect of the pandemic has been that people have gotten more used to conducting business online than ever before. Because of this, your patients should not be strangers to virtual consults. However, you should still communicate your expectations to them before they arrive for a touchless dental visit, as well as properly express the difference between what patients should expect from a virtual visit versus a regular dental visit.
An online dental consult is effective in part due to the benefits listed above. Teledentistry helps you triage appropriately and save on in-office appointments. Therefore, you should go in with the mindset of figuring out what can and needs to happen in a virtual visit versus what would be better to accomplish in a physical appointment.
To improve your ability to assess your patients, help them prepare effectively for the appointment by sending reminders. Tell them to test for a strong, working internet connection (an ethernet cable is preferable). Encourage them to use a webcam if possible for higher resolution. Remind them to position themselves in a well-lit room. Offer any instructions for paperwork that needs to be filled out before check-in. Finally, explain in your appointment confirmation that patients may need to be seen for an in-person follow-up if the matter is deemed to be urgent, so they come into the appointment with that possibility in mind. Communicating expectations on both sides will ensure that the online consult goes as smoothly as possible.
How contact-free dental appointments can be communicated to your patients
Besides explaining the best technology for their upcoming appointment, and what they should expect during a virtual visit, you should also communicate why you are encouraging virtual visits for your patients, and how they can benefit from them during COVID-19 and beyond.
You are working to keep as many of your patients safe as possible during a global pandemic using the latest information available to you
First, and most importantly, you are working to follow your state and local health guidelines, and abide by CDC recommendations on how to best reopen your practice. Communicate on your website and via email that you are following regulations by your licensing body on the state level, and that you are using information on local case counts to assess the risk your patients may experience during a physical appointment, as well as how you are working to mitigate those risks.
You should also be regularly sending out updates based on any new information that is provided at the local, state, and national levels to remind your patients that you are paying attention to trends and are responding accordingly.
Position an online dental consult as another opportunity for patients to take care of something on their to-do list in a virtual setting
Any time you increase accessibility to your dental practice, you’re improving health outcomes for your patients. Virtual consultations remove one of the potential barriers in the way of patients getting in touch with their dentists. Traditional dental appointments can take hours out of your patient’s day, even if they only spend minutes getting care – in general 17 percent of total time spent.
Teledentistry can help your patients save time and money. They won’t have to waste unnecessary sick or unpaid time, or spend time commuting and waiting in your office to receive care. Communicating virtual visits as a convenience you are providing to patients is one way to help them understand the benefit of initial online consultations now and after the pandemic.
Remind patients that the quality of online dental consulting can be just as good as regular dental visits, with personalized care and sound dental advice.
There’s bound to be skepticism over quality when technology offers new ways of doing things. While, in some cases, there’s no substitute for a face-to-face appointment, the idea that the quality of an online dental consult won’t be as good as a physical appointment doesn’t stand up to recent evaluations of the practice. Research is showing that success rates and the quality of care are the same for patients in telemedicine and in-office settings.
Reiterate your commitment to quality care, and reinforce what you need from patients during these virtual consultations to provide the most personalized experience possible in an online setting.
In conclusion: Teledentistry is a great service you can provide for your patients, now and in the future
An online dental consult has the potential to save your patients time, money, and additional appointments, while keeping your office as safe as possible and open for more urgent needs. Your patients can receive high-quality, personalized treatment from the comfort of their own home, improving their access to care and better long-term health outcomes.
Learn more about NexHealth’s telehealth software that can help you provide convenient, online dental consults from anywhere.