By Dr. Greg Grillo
Technological advancements follow a sharp adoption curve during normal times. But 2020 ushered in paradigm shifts unlike any time in recent history. Inevitable changes became mainstream in record time. In healthcare, the explosion of telehealth visits underscores just one of the shifts in our new world.
In dentistry, we spend hours working inside an area the size of a tennis ball. While most of us have our heads down peering through loops, the business world evolves. If we’re not careful, we miss the trends and get high-centered on ineffective business practices. Mailers may generate a few new clients, but
targeted Google ads
connect with far more prospects for less cost. Clipboards and paperwork gather information, but
work much better.
In dentistry, virtual visits present an opportunity for us to capitalize on an escalating consumer trend. Before the pandemic hit,
telehealth appointments were up 33%
over the previous year. But in 2020, providers recorded up to
175 times as many online visits
as they did in previous years! With 9 out of 10 people reporting a preference for telemedicine over in-office visits, don’t expect demand to fade next year.
“But it just won’t work in dentistry.”
Paradigms serve us well until it’s time to create new ones. In our hands-on profession, virtual visits won’t place an implant or deliver a CEREC crown. But that doesn’t mean they don’t serve a purpose. From perception to practicality, teledentistry deserves a place in forward-thinking practices. Here’s how this model saves the big three in our businesses: time, money, and stress.
Telehealth Visits Save Up to 100 Minutes of Patient Time
When we walk into an operatory, our patient has already invested a portion of the day in their appointment. A mother drops off a child at the sitter, rushes through traffic, checks in and waits, checks out, and then drives through the same traffic. Whether you spend 10 minutes or two hours with her, her precious day is slipping away.
Patients love the efficiency of virtual care:
85% of users indicate that they’re satisfied with their telemedicine visits
. And an equal number of clinicians report the same acceptance. When patients and providers discover win-win arrangements, they deserve a closer look.
Review your schedule. In the first week that we tried virtual visits in our practice, we identified eight patients who were a good fit for a teledental consult. They readily agreed, and we pulled them off the schedule and put them into spots that opened up operatories. The majority had asymptomatic broken teeth with current x-rays, and we just needed a treatment plan and appropriate scheduling. A couple of patients had swelling and some pain. An antibiotic proved to be the best first step based on a visual exam, review of previous records, and interview.
Many Insurance Companies Reimburse For Teledental Visits
Reimbursement for a virtual visit may equal a limited exam charge in your office. Many insurance companies provide equivalent payments now, and cash patients gladly pay to access your expertise from the comfort of their homes.
Adding several virtual visits during natural breaks in your schedule generates revenue without traditional overhead costs. But the revenue stream only starts with the online interaction, and may build from there. Consider the domino effect of teledentistry:
You file a claim for a few minutes of your time on your computer.
The visit saves operatory set-up, turnover, sterilization, chair time, and expenses.
A precise treatment plan allows for efficient scheduling at the next visit. For example, instead of a limited exam for a broken tooth, your team schedules a crown.
Your patient tells their friends about your efficient, innovative practice, and your reputation grows.
It gets better. Many practices find ways to reduce barriers for patients to explore elective care. Patients who may just want a consultation about Invisalign®, implants, or whitening can start with a virtual visit to discuss the options. Our practice now asks patients interested in simple implants to first come in for a CBCT with an assistant. A day or two later, they have a virtual consultation with us after we’ve reviewed the scan. Treatment acceptance and our in-office efficiency are higher.
Teledentistry Reaches The 22% Of Anxious People Who Avoid Care
Stress and anxiety form one of the most common barriers to dental care. For some patients, that avoidance leads to life-threatening infections and places burdens on emergency rooms. Over
two million dental-related ER visits occur each year
in the United States, and most visits involve prescriptions and recommendations for follow-up care.
Teledental visits reduce anxiety and provide a lower stress option for patients to take the next step toward care. Once they’ve met a dentist virtually, they may be more likely to schedule a regular visit. Patients with less emergent needs may also feel more comfortable finding out about options for their smile in the comfort of their home. Patients without anxiety issues still welcome any opportunity to avoid travel, waiting, and clinical spaces.
But what about the stress levels of you and your staff? Teledentistry offers one more way for your team to help patients. As you try to maintain safe traffic flow in your office or find a spot for another broken tooth, virtual visit appointments often allow flexibility to offer a helping hand.
Virtual visits may help patients move to the next step as they consider deferring elective treatment. With
dental visits down by 20%
, stress to our practice bottom lines could be real. Teledentistry can help reduce the strain on patients, staff, and your profitability.
900 Million Visits in 2020 Tell The Story
As dentists, it’s time to roll up our sleeves outside the operatory. We must take steps to protect our practices and meet the new consumer psychology permeating the market. Up to one billion telehealth visits with providers closed out 2020. Teledentistry offers one more way to connect with patients, lower barriers, and protect our profitability.