Is your dental practice considering teledentistry? If so, use this roadmap to create a successful virtual dentistry arm of your practice.
Teledentistry and the ability to deliver remote dental care are more important than ever. As of post, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced thousands of dental practices around the country to open virtual dental offices, save for emergency treatment.
Once just a viable new arm to the business, teledentistry has now become a significant — and in many cases, primary — revenue driver for practices.
Even as the pandemic recedes and normalcy returns, virtual dental care will continue in popularity. Teledentistry solutions allows for improved access to dental care for patients with inflexible work schedules and people living in remote or rural areas. It also allows you to provide urgent care for patients with a dental problem that may not require an immediate emergency room visit.
If you are new to teledentistry, or are even considering it, here is a guidepost for delivering exemplary patient care from afar.
What is Teledentistry?
If you’re going to provide teledentistry, it’s best to know exactly what you’re getting into.
For starters, teledentistry is not a specific service. Which is to say, it is not a branch of dentistry like prosthodontics or ortho.
Teledentistry is a method of delivering dental care. You know how restaurants have dine-in or carry-out? You deliver in-office care or remote care. That’s teledentistry.
A more precise definition comes from the ADA, who first added CDT codes to the code set in 2018: Teledentistry provides the means for a patient to receive services when the patient is in one physical location and the dentist or other oral health or general health care practitioner overseeing the delivery of those services is in another location.
By that definition, as long as a patient has hardware like a smartphone or laptop they can be on the receiving end of a virtual dental visit.
Dentists, however, need to ensure they are in compliance with HIPAA regulations — regardless of whether they are providing service from the terrestrial office or a remote location (e.g. the home).
For this reason, it’s best to use a teledentistry solution like RevenueWell’s Virtual Visits — a feature that accompanies our third-party verified, HIPAA-compliant patient communication and marketing platform. Communications are encrypted and the transfer of data is safe.
A good rule of thumb for practicing telehealth is that, if out of office, your location becomes an extension of your office. In other words, if you’re treatment planning from your lake house, the same rules and regulations apply just as if you were to your terrestrial office.
Why Teledentistry is Important
We touched on this a little above, but there are several clear-cut advantages to virtual dentistry.
In the midst of COVID-19, it’s irrefutable that teledentistry is safer. You can treat and prescribe from afar, mitigating a lot of the risk tethered to the coronavirus.
Once we’re past this global pandemic, safety will still be at the forefront of our collective mind. Words like immunocompromised and social distancing will not sail off into the sunset.
As such, you can provide an added layer of protection to any patients who may have immunodeficiencies. Regardless of how sterile your practice is, you’ll also offer them peace of mind.
Save on Costs
Again, with COVID-19 dominating our current life, there’s a broad discussion about the severe lack of PPE.
But let’s look beyond COVID-19 and dive into the hard financials of your practice with the money you can save on PPE thanks to virtual visits. Every virtual consult will save how many masks and gloves?
There is certainly an economical trickle-down effect with telehealth services.
Teledentistry removes a large barrier of entry: time.
Outside of money, time is probably the largest barrier to entry for any patient — how to fit a visit into their increasingly packed schedule.
By offering a digital option, patients who are too slammed to commute to the office can still receive your great treatment. You’ve now extended your operatory into their living room or office.
Remote dentistry also expands the schedule. How many extra visits per day can you squeeze in now that you don’t have to turn over the operatory?
As we push deeper into the 21st century, practices that eliminate the barrier of time will be the most successful. Offer virtual visits, give patients digital forms to fill out at home, and make it so all in-person visits are a frictionless stroll right into treatment.
New Revenue Stream
This pretty much ties together the previous two sections on accessibility and cost savings.
During the COVID-19 outbreak, teledentistry will be a necessity. Afterward, it will enable practices to get creative — to really stretch how they deliver care.
Some practices will have complete arms of remote services. They will move all triage and consultations to be performed remotely. Others will make all routine post-op visits virtual.
Teledentistry will streamline operations, trim any bloat, and allow practices to hone in on areas that drive the most revenue.
Ultimately, it will prove itself the dental industry’s next great revenue driver.
Uses of Virtual Dentistry
There are many ways a practice can utilize virtual dentistry. Here are several options:
Live Video Visits
Think: FaceTime dentistry. You and a patient hop on a call for a live video consultation. This scenario is called synchronous teledentistry, which means there’s a real-time, two-way flow of information.
Sending Recorded Health Info
Virtual dentistry can also be “asynchronous,” which may include the remote sharing of information and virtually diagnosing.
In other words, a patient who comes in for digital impressions is referred out to a specialist. Rather than having to visit the specialist in person, the patient can fire up a virtual visit and have their consultation there.
Or, a patient can upload X-rays from one practitioner to the patient portal with a new provider. From there, the new dentist can diagnose treatment remotely.
There is still a one-on-one component here, but it also folds in the secure transfer of PII.
Remote Patient Monitoring
In this scenario, a patient may take pictures of their ailment and share with the dentist.
They may not be available for real-time consultation, but they can securely share their question or need, and then receive an answer from the medical professional.
Think: virtual treatment planning.
Doctors can help educate patients on their oral health. By sharing CAESY Cloud videos or personal messages, the doctor can fully articulate the need for a treatment.
As you can see, teledentistry goes beyond the parameters of live, real-time communications. In fact, many practices extending their personal touch with a communication platform like RevenueWell already employ certain forms of telehealth.
Helping Patients Embrace Teledentistry
As with everything, this comes down to educating patients.
A prevailing thought is younger patients are more inclined to schedule virtual visits than older patients. To them, the world has always been online.
And while there’s truth here, older populations are a wonderful demographic for remote dentistry. Mobility could be an issue. Driving may not be the easiest. There could be significant health issues extending beyond oral health.
The option to speak with a doctor from afar provides an added layer of comfort since they can do it from their own home.
Send email and text messages informing patients you offer teledentistry. At RevenueWell, we have created these emails and texts for our customers, so they can deliver the news with little more than a few clicks of the mouse.
Beyond this initial messaging, reassure patients that all their data is safe. All matters discussed still fall under HIPAA. Your conversations are private; any transfer of data is encrypted.
The best thing you can do in educating patients is to make a remote appointment feel no different than visiting the office.
As more and more patients buy in, your virtual dentistry service will take off. Marketing virtual visits is really no different than selling a whitening treatment. Once people know it’s an option, they’ll embrace it.
And, in times of quarantine and social distancing, teledentistry won’t even be that much of a sell. Most patients will view it as a no-brainer, if not a blessing.
Setting Up Your Practice for Teledentistry
Marketing your teledentistry services is one thing, delivering treatment just as you would a terrestrial visit is a whole other.
Like with all new treatments and procedures, it’s best to have an airtight process in place before going full bore into remote work.
What services do you provide remotely?
Is there anything that must be done in-house?
What team members have a hand in virtual visits?
What does a virtual visit even look like?
Map out every scenario, like you would for a brick-and-mortar process, and then coach your team on it. Run test visits before going live.
From there, evolve and enhance. Be vigilant with patient surveys and reviews. Take feedback to heart and learn what you can improve upon.
Configure Your Schedule
When do you allow virtual visits?
All day? Only mornings? From 3-5 each day? After hours on Wednesdays?
Are you comfortable filling gaps in the schedule with virtual visits, or are they only to be held at a specific time? Should every virtual visit be blocked for the same amount of time, or are there different tiers?
Beyond all this, how does your team schedule a virtual visit? In other words, can patients call in to schedule, or is it just through an appointment request on your site?
Every practice has its own scheduling technique; just make sure this folds neatly into what currently works for you.
Define a Space for Virtual Dentistry
Now that you have an idea of the space virtual visits will fill on your schedule, understand the physical space where you’ll hold them.
A best practice is to have an exam room dedicated to virtual visits. This way, you can have the necessary technology in place and are set up for success.
Should you want other team members involved in your teledentistry services, ensure that the dedicated space is large enough to hold several people. You do not want patients to feel like they’re talking to people crammed in a broom closet.
If at home, dedicate a select part of your residence for these consults.
And remember, you are still bound by HIPAA regulations. Be sure that each patient is given the same right to privacy they would receive had they come into your office.
Since these are still visits to your practice, they must be documented — preferably in your practice management software.
Set up your documentation process, accounting for any billing or prescription services.
This step folds into your greater process planning. Namely, how does a patient check in and out for their virtual visit?
Some telehealth vendors, like RevenueWell, ensure that the process from intake to virtual walk-out to online billing/payment is seamless.
Continue to Inform Patients
Teledentistry should have a strong presence on your website and in all your social channels (especially Facebook).
Ensure that your entire team is educated on your full process so they can field any questions patients may have — whether before a virtual visit or in the follow-up.
Teledentistry Insurance Coding
When coding teledentistry, the first thing to know is that it is an additional item to be reported alongside the treatment you deliver.
The second thing to understand is the teledentistry service are you providing. Is it real-time consultation or is it review of material that was forwarded to the doctor?
There are codes for each. Per the ADA, here is how they read:
D9995 teledentistry – synchronous; real-time encounter
Reported in addition to other procedures (e.g., diagnostic) delivered to the patient on the date of
D9996 teledentistry – asynchronous; information stored and forwarded to dentist for subsequent
According to the ADA, teledentistry codes “exist to document and report the additional costs associated with delivery of services when a patient and their dentist are not in the same physical location.”
Teledentistry codes are to be used in the same vein as codes like D9410 (house call) and D9420 (hospital call), where a doctor cannot be in the same physical location as their patient.
Before implementing teledentistry, you should consult your state board to ensure that it is permitted.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, some states have lightened restrictions. However, there is no guarantee they will stick once quarantine measures are lifted.
Another amendment during the COVID-19 outbreak is a lightening on restrictions for virtual dentistry. According to the ADA, practices can use, “FaceTime, Facebook Messenger video chat, Google Hangouts video or Skype, to provide telehealth without risk.”
Alternatively, practices CANNOT use the following during the pandemic: “Facebook Live, Twitch, TikTok, and similar video communication applications that are public facing.”
Again, there is no telling if the COVID-19 amendments will stay intact following the pandemic. For this reason, it’s a best practice for all dental offices to use a HIPAA-compliant, dental-specific platform like RevenueWell to deliver safe care to their patients.
Looking to set up teledentistry with your practice? Schedule a call to get started with RevenueWell! Have experience with teledentistry and want to share? Join our Facebook Group and offer you knowledge to a community of dedicated dental professionals.
Topics: Dental Practice Management