According to the Association of Ontario Health Centres, in 2015 there were nearly 61,000 visits to hospital emergency rooms and over 221,000 visits to physician offices for dental related issues. These numbers suggest that over 282,000 patients sought help from the wrong healthcare provider, resulting in delays in obtaining the appropriate dental care (Maund, 2017). With today’s technology, utilizing teledentistry as a way to prevent unnecessary ER and physician office visits has the power to reduce demands on Ontario’s healthcare system. Further, redirecting patients from physician offices to teledentistry also reduces stress and wait times for patients experiencing dental health concerns.
The unpredicted effects of the COVID-19 pandemic also presented new challenges for the dental community that has never been seen before. The restrictions placed on in-office visits to treat only essential dental emergencies combined with having to minimize social interaction, greatly impacted a profession where contact is essential. Despite these challenges, it also highlighted how quickly dentists and dental offices can adapt to change. As dental offices were mandated to close and it became essential to reduce unnecessary in-office dental visits, teledentistry became the next best option for minimizing human contact. As a result, guidelines were made by the Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario suggesting that teledentistry be used by dentists for continuing dental care for their patients, remotely.
Not only has the COVID-19 pandemic exposed us to extreme possibilities that we may have to face, but it also showed us how teledentistry can help us during these uncertain times. As more and more dentists begin to provide teledentistry services, the long-term benefits of using a virtual platform to provide quality dental care have become much more apparent. This has provided insight into what the future of dentistry can look like and how it is constantly evolving.
Long Term Benefits of Teledentistry
Teledentistry is not just a temporary fix for unexpected office closures but a long-term fix for many existing dental problems such as overhead costs for dental offices, geographical barriers, mobility constraints, and the cost of emergency dental services for patients. Teledentistry can overcome these problems, all while improving patient experience.
Decreasing Overhead Costs and Increasing Revenue
Teledentistry saves on overhead costs, while at the same time increases office revenue. Using teledentistry to book consultations and follow-up patient appointments virtually reduce supplies and equipment used by the dentist and therefore lower costs. Additionally, using teledentistry to book postoperative appointments saves chair time for dental procedures, increasing revenue, and efficiency of office flow. Usually, when a patient books an in-office emergency appointment, the reason for the appointment is not fully apparent. Booking an hour appointment for one that only requires a prescription wastes time and is inefficient. Similarly, booking a short appointment for treatment such as a root canal results in the same problem. A virtual consultation can solve this problem by allowing the dental team to accurately determine the appropriate length of an in-office appointment to make scheduling more efficient while saving chair time for more urgent dental procedures. Many patients will also require premedication before dental treatment. Using teledentistry as a way to prescribe medications through video call can save the patient the extra visit to the dental clinic prior to the treatment, which also helps save the chair time for patients requiring chairside treatment.
Overcoming Geographical Barriers
Teledentistry can also act as a solution for overcoming geographical or distance barriers. As a dentist, this is a great way to reach inaccessible or underserved populations to provide them with quality and frequent oral health care. As a patient, teledentistry saves travel time while also acting as an excellent alternative to emergency room visits and the wait times that are associated with them. Having a dentist provide advice and prescribe medication over a video call for emergencies requiring an antibiotic, for example, saves time, money, and the stress on Ontario’s health care system.
Better Patient Experience
Teledentistry can provide a better patient experience, especially for those that may experience time, scheduling, and/or mobility constraints. Patients with physical or mobility constraints, including those in residential homes, those with chronic disease, or those who lack access to transportation can highly benefit as they can have an initial consultation through a video call. This can restrict office visits to procedures only needing in-office treatment. Another example involves patients who are pregnant. Virtual consultations prevent unnecessary in-office visits and the time spent in the waiting room, making their dental experience comfortable throughout pregnancy.
Another positive aspect of teledentistry is that it has the potential to decrease dental anxiety for the patient. Dental anxiety often results in the avoidance of necessary dental care and eventually the deterioration of oral health. This is seen especially in young children, and children with special needs. Teledentistry can act as a medium to introduce the patient to the dentist from the comfort of their own home. This can reduce levels of anxiety and make the patient feel more comfortable with the new dentist before they make an in-office appointment. Teledentistry consultations can also familiarize the patient in regard to the treatment or procedure that needs to be performed. If the patient understands what is going to happen on the day of the procedure, they will be more comfortable, and more compliant, which will increase the success of the treatment. The success of the treatment results in more trust in the dentist, lower levels of dental anxiety for the future, and overall a better patient experience.
The Future of Teledentistry
A virtual platform that allows dentists to provide dental care to patients comes with an endless list of benefits that will last much longer than the impact of COVID-19 on the dental community. As such, teledentistry has the potential to completely revolutionize the field of dentistry in the near future.