This month on the Dental CPAs blog, we’re exploring topics that discuss disruption. Dentistry hasn’t always been known as an industry at the forefront of change and innovation, but advances in healthcare and technology are altering that perception. Do you have an idea for a future blog post on dental innovation, or is your dental practice disrupting your local marketplace? We’d love to hear from you! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Up next is a look at how teledentistry is changing the model of how dental care is delivered.
Benefits of Teledentistry
Much like its counterpart in healthcare, teledentistry aims to make dental care more accessible. The prospect of teledentistry is exciting because it can better serve communities where dentists don’t have as much of a presence, increase access to specialized dental care, and lower the barriers to receiving quality preventative dental care to millions of underserved Americans. Dental specialists can treat a wider population base, and teledentistry can also better integrate oral health into a larger healthcare and wellness landscape. Plus, there are also studies supporting teledentistry’s effect on lowering the overall cost of dental care.
Background and Barriers to Use
Teledentistry is not new; in fact, in the mid-1990s, the Department of Defense launched a program called Total Dental Access. States have been somewhat slow to adopt policies and regulations addressing this expanded field of dental care, and the concept has been slowly gaining momentum over the past few years. Earlier this year, the American Dental Association added procedural codes that dentists can use for reimbursement, a clear sign that teledentistry is not a passing trend.
Despite the growing acceptance rate, historically telehealth is not widely available in Maryland. Our state tends to lag behind others when it comes to removing barriers to implementing overall telehealth initiatives. This is mostly due to the cost of equipment and technology, but just as importantly, practitioner reimbursement. In Maryland, Medicaid reimbursement is not available because transportation costs are not a major cost factor. However, Medicare does reimburse for certain interactive, “live” clinical services and consultations conducted in designated rural Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSA) and in counties in non-metropolitan services areas (non-MSAs). When most underserved populations rely on Medicaid and Medicare for healthcare and dental needs, and dentists cannot be reimbursed for performing teledental services to those populations, there’s much less incentive to pursue teledentistry.
How to Use Teledentistry In Your Practice
Although state laws vary (check with your state dental board for specific guidance), for the most part dentists and hygienists are free to design their teledentistry service model. This can include serving patients:
- Virtually through live video chat or real-time electronic communications
- On-site through mobile dental clinics
- On-site through satellite locations at schools, nursing homes, or other buildings
Most hygiene services can be offered at on-site mobile clinics or satellite locations. This gives dentists an opportunity to expand their hygiene practice and add new patients. Beyond routine preventive dental care, basic restorative dental services can be good options for on-site dental locations. And in some states, hygienists can perform these services, too. In Maryland, hygienists are permitted to place or remove temporary restorations and crowns; other states allow a broader range of restorative procedures.
Virtual teledentistry services like live video chat and real-time electronic communications are great ways to monitor a patient’s recovery from various dental procedures, check in regarding ongoing dental issues, answer patient questions, and prescribe certain drugs without the patient coming into the office. Virtual communications are ideal to share x-rays and test results with patients and other medical providers.
Before implementing teledentistry services, dentists should check with their state dental board on permissible procedures, reimbursement codes, and any other compliance requirements. Talk to patients and staff and ask which services would be valuable and could be offered, and look at gaps in dental care around the community. Ensure the right software and technology is in place. Then, put together a plan for implementation, promote it to patients and area residents, and watch your dental practice grow. Dental CPAs is available to answer questions on how your dental practice can become more innovative and patient-focused, and can help navigate the sometimes complex process of adding services. Contact us for more information.