What is Teledentistry—And How Does it Fit into Telehealth?
Telehealth is the buzz-word describing this new era of professional healthcare delivery. With this shift toward telehealth and virtual care, as well as studies pointing to the importance of including oral health into primary care, the conversation has increasingly included teledentistry and virtual dental care.
Like telemedicine, teledentistry is a term that’s sometimes used synonymously with telehealth or telemedicine — but they’re not the same thing. Teledentistry is actually a component of telehealth, which is a broader term encompassing the entirety of remote and/or technology-driven healthcare.
What is Telehealth?
Telehealth includes various telemedicine systems, health care tools, and modes of care delivery that allow the delivery of health education or services from a distance, such as:
- live video chat (synchronous)
- store-and-forward (asynchronous) transmission of radiographs, photographs, video, digital impressions through a secure electronic communications system to a practitioner. This information is then used to diagnose or provide a service.
- remote patient monitoring (RPM) — collecting personal health and medical data from a single individual via electronic medical device technologies. The data is transmitted to a different location (sometimes via a data processing service) where the provider can access it for monitoring conditions and supporting care delivery.
- mobile health (mHealth) — health care education, practice and delivery done over mobile communication devices such as cell phones, tablet computers, and personal digital assistants (PDA).
What is Teledentistry?
Teledental health is a very broad category of solutions that service patients oral health at a distance by doing it remotely. People who do not have a dentist, lack access to a dentist or live far from a dental office can be helped with this level of care – via telephone or videoconferencing capability or other means mentioned above. It’s the idea that these technologies can be leveraged to improve access to care, gather and exchange information with a licensed dentist, to provide and support dental care delivery, diagnosis, consultation, treatment, transfer of dental information and education.
Telemedicine refers to the “virtual visits” that take place between patients and clinicians via communications technology — the video and audio connectivity that allows “virtual” meetings to occur in real time, from virtually any location.
A teledental visit can be a videoconference between a dentist and a patient regarding an urgent dental or oral health problem, and it can also give patients improved access to information about the importance of oral health.
With evolving technology, urgent oral or dental issues can be remediated – helping people to avoid expensive, time-consuming visits to the hospital Emergency Room or urgent care clinic by scheduling them at a dental care facility the next day.
Is There A Teledentistry Market?
At a recent Telehealth Secrets conference, President and CEO of The TeleDentists, Maria Kunstadter, DDS talks about the “perfect storm” that has been brewing to create a hot teledentistry market. Dr. Kunstadter explained, “Currently there is a huge gap in our system for dental help. Last year, 39% of the population did not see a dentist. For most people, it takes an average of 3 years for them to go into a dental appointment. That’s about 125 million people today who need dental help.”
Because of this gap, many of them go to the ER for care so 4% of emergency room visits – that is 5.5 million visits were for oral related conditions. In 2015, the American Dental Association reported that about 1.7 billion dollars was spent in ERs on toothache codes alone, where no treatment is done and then patients are on their own to find a dentist afterwards. Statistically, 20% of the time those patients will wind up back in the ER for another expensive visit because they never had a dental visit.
Further research shows that we can reduce the cost of health care by 17% by simply integrating oral health. There have also been calls for integrating oral health into primary care by the Surgeon General, the Academy of Pediatrics, and the Academy of Family Practitioners.
Teledentistry is in the perfect storm to create access to the oral health gaps in the US and around the world today.
Learn more by watching Dr. Kunstadter’s full talk on Teledentistry here.
Consumer Demand Driving Teledentistry Adoption
Demand is also increasing for a means to avoid the expense, burden and time spent traveling to and from hospitals or urgent care clinics. This is especially true in rural and low income urban areas struggling to attract dentists for their communities.
The National Advisory Committee on Oral Health Rural has highlighted geographic isolation, lack of transportation, and acute provider shortages (60% of the nation’s Dental Health Professional Shortage Areas are in rural America) as barriers to oral health in rural areas. Rural oral health statistics show that in 2017, 55.7% of adults living in a rural area saw a dentist versus 65.2% living in a metropolitan area.
For example, Polk County, Oregon’s dentists were booked out for months, causing patients with dental needs to have to wait for an appointment or to travel to an adjoining county for dental care. A teledentistry program bringing virtual dental care to Polk County schools was created and helped to successfully address this need remotely.
Parks Associates connected health research in 2017 showed that 60 percent of U.S. households with broadband access “are interested in remote care that would take place online or by telephone.”
Employee Benefit Research Institute/Greenwald & Associates Consumer Engagement in Health Care Survey found that 40% of millennials said that a telemedicine option was “extremely or very important.” (At 83 million strong, millennials now comprise the largest segment of today’s workforce).
According to Massachusetts General Hospital, 79% of patients said that scheduling a telemedicine follow-up visit was more convenient than arranging an in-person follow-up.
A survey of private US health plan members found that 84 percent said that they would use video or online services if they were offered.
It appears that patients are increasingly drawn to the concept of healthcare services that come to them, rather than vice versa. Telehealth is also increasingly being used as a way to address healthcare disparities including oral health. This translates into a system where it is possible to consult doctors, nurses, dentists or other healthcare professionals from home or office.
This is what virtual healthcare is all about.
The TeleDentists Signal a New Era of Dental Care
”Doc, this tooth is killing me. Help!”
Dentists have been conducting “teledentistry” since the telephone was invented. Now with services like The TeleDentists, it is possible to conduct virtual dental visits via telehealth for those urgent oral/dental problems 24/7/365 via video consultation — and have a next day appointment in a dental office when needed.
Video consults connect the patient’s laptop, tablet or smart phone to a virtual dentist who diagnoses the patient’s problem and gets them started feeling better quickly, which may include an e-script for an antibiotic and/or non-narcotic pain medication. When follow-up care is needed, next -day appointments are booked with an appropriate dentist, conveniently located near the patient.
The TeleDentists offers several programs to the public, including:
Tooth brushing monitoring program (with QR code) for sepsis prevention – studies show savings of $400 million in sepsis prevention through tooth brushing
Dental Second Opinions, giving patients the opportunity to consult with specialists on a proposed dental treatment.
The Education Center (accessible to the public), where users can discuss products and home care with dental hygienists.
Smile Survey to see how their smile scores from 1-10. For those who want to improve their score, The TeleDentists are available to give oral hygiene instructions and product recommendations.
Hospitals, Urgent Care Clinics, Employers Offering Teledental Care
Hospitals, urgent care centers, and employers are now implementing The TeleDentists’ cloud-based service to reduce costs and improve access to dental care. The TeleDentists service allows Emergency Rooms and urgent care facilities to quickly access a specialist to treat these oral care level one problems at a fraction of the cost that would be incurred if treated by the ER doctor.
It allows employers to reduce lost productivity due to dental issues by providing convenient teledentistry services right from employer on-site clinics or school medical centers. A CDC study found that an average of 320.8 million work or school hours were lost annually for dental care.
Senior living centers and skilled nursing facilities can also employ The TeleDentist services to provide dental care on site and use the approved teledentistry codes to bill Medicare and Medicaid.
Interested in learning more about how The TeleDentists can bridge dental care gaps to improve your bottom line.
Learn more about The TeleDentist and VSee partnership. Full press release here.