The shift to telehealth as the primary mode of care delivery occurred with lightning speed in March and April of 2020. With stay-at-home orders in effect across the U.S., and most telehealth requirements waived for the moment, virtual care has emerged as the way to keep patients safe and comfortable, and keep healthcare practices seeing patients.
The big question about implementing telehealth services is no longer “when?” (Telehealth growth was steady before the COVID-19 pandemic but use was limited). Now, the question from doctors and dentists is “how?” What does it take to deliver care via synchronous audio-video?
Teledentistry tips from an expert
Dental practice management expert Fred Joyal has been advising dental offices for more than 30 years, and has now created a teledentistry to-do list. Joyal, a PatientPop senior advisor, is co-founder of 1-800-DENTIST and author of Becoming Remarkable: Creating a Dental Practice Everyone Talks About.
In his recent video addressing dentists, Joyal identifies a troubling issue driven by current events.
“During this crisis, most of you can’t see regular patients. These patients who have dental emergencies… they’re going to the ER. They’re not going to get properly treated there, and they’re going to overwhelm the hospital,” says Joyal. “This isn’t what you want to happen in your community. You solve it with teledentistry.”
By offering a telehealth option to dental patients, practices:
- provide a method of triage while maintaining a safe distance
- can determine if in-person care is necessary
- maintain a trusted connection with patients
- expand opportunities to see new patients by appearing in online search results
Dental practices that bring telehealth services and teledentistry to their patients are positioning themselves for these short-term benefits and long-term success. When considering a choice of technology for your practice, and methods for implementation, you can look to Joyal’s 12 steps as a guide.
A 12-step guide to teledentistry
1. Choose the appropriate software
There are dozens of available software tools dentists can use to conduct a virtual visit. Don’t jump into a basic, video-only quick-fix solution just to get your practice something during the national health emergency. Look for a telehealth platform that’s comprehensive enough to meet your needs (and HIPAA compliance) long after the emergency is lifted. Joyal: “Some of these systems… their servers are getting overwhelmed. You’re going to want to choose a strong platform.”
2. Tell patients you offer teledentistry
Take advantage of your communication tools — sending patient emails, updating your website and outgoing phone messages — to let patients know they can schedule a virtual visit. To alert and attract prospective patients, add a teledentistry presence to your SEO strategy.
3. Schedule teledentistry appointments
Identify virtual visits as part of your dentists’ schedules. Be sure to include telehealth as an option patients can select in any online scheduling tools. Joyal: “Most of those appointments are not going to be that long. Five, 10, maybe 15 minutes long.”
4. Have a team member triage patients
If a dental assistant can ascertain the patient’s needs before the appointment, they can determine whether teledentistry is the right mode of care delivery, saving time for the practice. In some instances, the assistant can determine that an in-person visit is necessary instead of a telehealth visit.
5. Gather all relevant patient information
If an assistant determines teledentistry is the way to go, they should then collect the information necessary for a smooth visit: patient health history, allergies, medications, insurance, and method of payment. This is also the time to alert the patient of any payment obligation. A comprehensive telehealth platform will include most or all of this in a digital intake form the patient can complete, saving the practice even more time.
6. Schedule time with the dentist or connect to the dentist
The doctor is available and is ready to see the patient.
7. Conduct the exam via HD video
Dentists should ask patients what’s going on, but also ask patients to show them. Dentists are encouraged to ask plenty of questions to help determine diagnosis and treatment.
8. Use a chat function to exchange images and written questions
In a telehealth platform, a complementary chat function allows the patient to jot down questions or concerns, and upload photos or videos.
9. Recommend treatment, prescribe medication
Dentists may take a different approach than usual if the care plan includes a decision to keep the patient from having to come to the practice. If an in-person visit is seen as the best option, the practice should then schedule that appointment.
10. Call in a prescription and/or schedule an in-person appointment
The patient’s condition may require starting on a prescription, with the plan to then visit the office in two to three days.
11. Get paid
This is the point in a virtual visit to collect a payment or copay. To bill insurance companies, use the teledentistry code D9995 for a live video conversation or D9996 for an asynchronous visit in which information is exchanged, but not in real time.
12. Transfer patient data to the PMS
Each practice should use the most efficient method available, depending on their telehealth system, to get patient data and charting into their standard PMS.
Teledentistry for patients today
Virtual care has become the most powerful way for a medical practice of any kind — especially practices that manage their fair share of emergency situations — to let patients know they can and will be cared for. Telehealth is a key branding differentiator for dental practices today, but the most rewarding opportunity is putting patients’ minds at ease, and helping them feel better, even from a distance.