Home Technology and MaterialsCommunications Demystifying Teledentistry: The Top 3 Secrets to Implementing Virtual Appointments

Demystifying Teledentistry: The Top 3 Secrets to Implementing Virtual Appointments

by Melissa Turner

If you haven’t yet implemented virtual appointments into the daily offerings of your dental practice then you are officially behind the times. Now please understand, typically I’m not so blunt but as we go through yet another month of re-entering our clinical environments and navigating uncertainty, I feel the need to convey a sense of dire urgency! Practice owner, let this be your wake-up call. Don’t let another day go by without implementing teledentistry!

It’s never been easier

The truth is it’s never been easier to implement teledentistry. Prior to the COVID-19 shutdown, it was possible to name every teledentistry platform on two hands and now, post-shutdown, we find ourselves swimming in products and services all which claim to offer “teledentistry.” To help us navigate current offerings, it’s helpful to subdivide them into the following categories:

  • Communications technology- At its most basic form, teledentistry is simply a means of communicating with our patients. There exists a subset of teledentistry platforms whose primary goal is to provide enhanced communications to patients. These platforms integrate into or alongside existing practice management technology and primarily help dental practices communicate with their patients via video, text, or store-and-forward methods.
  • Provider-facing technology- With the clinician in mind, provider-facing platforms allow for an efficient clinical workflow and either integrate into current systems or stand alone. Likely, these platforms incorporate electronic health records, practice-management functionality, or imaging capability into their systems and are especially great to use alongside satellite practice locations.
  • Patient-facing technology- What if there was a way for a patient to download an app, request a consult with a dentist, and then schedule follow-up care with the dentist? The good news is this technology already exists! Patients love it because of the convenience and flexibility, and practices love it for new patient lead generation and marketing. 

The power of virtual appointments

While telehealth has been around for several decades now, we’ve seen a dramatic spike in interest over the proceeding seven months. Specifically, teledentistry interest peaked with the introduction of two distinct codes into CDT 2018—D9995 (synchronous/live video) and D9996 (asynchronous/store-and-forward). Early adopters are now experienced enough to understand the secrets, tips and tricks to effective and efficient implementation. The biggest secret, however, is that once you begin to regularly implement virtual care, you can’t imagine working without it!  

Here are the top three secrets to finding success with virtual appointments:

  1. Start small, think big. There are so many ways to implement teledentistry into your dental practice right now that the opportunities may seem a bit overwhelming. One of the most significant benefits of implementing virtual care is that it is easily adaptable and customizable to your businesses’ specific needs. Start small with just one of your favorite patients, perhaps someone who you are very familiar with. Set a goal to see one patient the first week, two patients the second week, and so on. Before long, you’ll find that providing virtual appointments creates valuable open clinical chair time, allowing you to fill that open time with more profitable and complex clinical procedures.
  2. It’s a team affair. Just because the patient is expecting a virtual appointment with a dentist doesn’t mean the dentist has to do all of the legwork. Instead, treat it like a traditional appointment and have a dental assistant (or administrative personnel) arrange the call, greet the patient, review health history, answer preliminary questions, and then close the appointment. This produces an efficient and effective workflow for the entire team. Positioning one virtual appointment on each end of both the lunch hour and work day are great ways to sneak them into your day without disrupting your schedule.
  3. Think beyond brick and mortar. The single most costly mistake I see practice owners and clinicians make is a mistake in mindset—we believe our patients want to walk through our practice doors. The harsh reality is the dental office is the last place they want to be. Take a moment to reflect—throughout each day, how often do you cross your fingers and hold your breath, hoping the next patient shows up (let alone shows up on time)? At its heart, teledentistry reaches the patient directly and conveniently in the palm of their hand. But why stop there? Why not take your clinical care to the patient? More than ever, patients are home-centric and expect us to meet them where they are. The best part about this is your patients will thank you over and over again for coming to them! 

The dental practice of the future will no longer be restricted by the four walls of our fixed, brick-and-mortar buildings and instead will include both virtual and mobile arms into the community. The great news is it’s never before been easier to implement virtual care into your practice offerings!

Melissa Turner

Melissa Turner, BASDH, RDHEP, EFDA is chief hygiene officer for Cellerant Consulting Group and is co-creator of Care for a Better Tomorrow, an alliance of leading dental brands and experts committed to creating a brighter future. She is a nationally published author, speaker, and is cofounder of the National Mobile & Teledentistry Conference.

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