Dentists Are Turning to Telehealth to Deal With COVID-19 Challenges - mHealthIntelligence.com

Dentists Are Turning to Telehealth to Deal With COVID-19 Challenges - mHealthIntelligence.com


Dentists Are Turning to Telehealth to Deal With COVID-19 Challenges - mHealthIntelligence.com

Posted: 26 Apr 2020 08:19 AM PDT

By Eric Wicklund

- Among the different types of healthcare providers hit hard by the Coronavirus pandemic, dentists rank near the top of the list. Now they're turning to telehealth to offer patients access to some services and keep their practices going.

With states enacting strict guidelines to separate patients from providers and allow only critical or emergency care, many dentists shut their doors and referred patients with urgent dental concerns to the nearest hospital. But dentists are now finding that they can use connected health platforms to stay in touch with patients, handle non-urgent services and screen those needing care.

(For more coronavirus updates, visit our resource page, updated twice daily by Xtelligent Healthcare Media.)

One such example is Penn Dental Medicine, part of the University of Pennsylvania, which now sees roughly 40 patients each day via telemedicine and another 12 to 20 in person for dental services that can't be delayed, such as tooth extractions and temporary crown replacements. Any procedure that produces aerosol (which can convey the virus), such as drilling, is referred to a hospital.

When Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf issued emergency guidelines on March 22 that ordered dentists to use N95 masks and negative-pressure rooms, most dental practices in the state shut down.

"Dentistry is one of the most dangerous professions in terms of COVID-19 because the aerosol generated by a dental hand piece is an easy transmission route," Frank Setzer, an assistant professor of endodontics at Penn Medicine, said in a news story produced by the university news service Penn Today. "So, at this point we're prohibited from using anything with aerosol, drilling … And without a drill, there's not a lot to do [as] a dentist."

Faced with those restrictions, Penn Dental Medicine turned to its telehealth platform. Licensed dentists are on hand to help with patients whose issues can be handled in a virtual visit, while others are prescribed medications, scheduled for in-person care or referred to a hospital.

"I think the patients are very pleased their needs are being addressed, that at least somebody is trying to help them," Najeed Saleh, Penn Dental Medicine's Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs, said in the Penn Today story. "And it's certainly not ideal, but they are understanding and there are certain cases where we resolve the problem for the patient completely and they're very appreciative."

Dental care providers, from dentists to dental schools to teledentistry services like The Teledentists and Dentacoin, are using the COVID-19 emergency to push telehealth into the spotlight. As with many other healthcare providers, they're hoping to prove the value of the platform now, so that telehealth adoption and momentum can be maintained once the pandemic has passed.

To help dentists looking to shift more services online, a handful of teledentistry sites have offered some suggestions:

  1. Create a social media presence. Develop an online platform to engage with current and potential patients. Share posts on food choices, patient testimonials and tips for better dental care.
  2. Interact with patients. Run a live Q&A, answering questions from followers, or create and post videos that answer questions posed online.
  3. Maintain a website. Make sure it's up to date.
  4. Take advantage of learning resources. Research the latest trends in treatments, technologies and practice management techniques and take online courses.
  5. Optimize patient communication. Research and implement online messaging services, such as appointment scheduling and reminders, patient check-in and registration, advice on treatment and payment options and after-treatment care.
  6. Provide teledentistry services. Research what can and can't be offered through an online care platform, including online consultations, video-based services and prescriptions. Some services may require certain telemedicine technology or tools.
  7. Know the laws and guidelines. Study up on HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and federal and state telehealth guidelines, particularly with regard to treating new patients, prescribing certain medications and treating patients from other states. In addition, study up on what payers cover teledentistry services and what services they cover.

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