Teledentistry has seen broad adoption in the past few years, but this hasn't been without its challenges. In particular, dentists have faced many challenges in offering teledentistry services and attracting patients. As patients, it's critical to understand these obstacles as it can help make our experience with teledentistry more successful. Understanding your dentist's point of view can help you both make the transition to teledentistry as smooth as possible.
Here are five challenges that teledentistry presents for dentists.
Teledentistry Challenge #1: Patient Confidence and Lack of Information
A significant barrier to the adoption of teledentistry is patient confidence in both their safety and privacy. Patients always heavily scrutinize medical services, and teledentistry is no expectation. Patients want to be sure they aren't putting their health at risk when using teledentistry services.
Fortunately, many of these fears have already been addressed in various studies. One six-year study conducted showed that teledentistry is safe, and the quality of care is on par with in-person dentist visits. Some key findings of the study were:
- Two-thirds of children and one-half of seniors in the study did not need a dentist and were able to have their oral care needs met by a dental hygienist.
- Any treatments performed by hygienists reported no issues.
- Virtual dental homes provided more support for early treatment and intervention.
- Benefits included lower costs for patients.
For privacy, many existing laws, such as HIPAA, extend to teledentistry services. Patients can expect the same privacy protections, regardless of how they seek dental treatment.
The question then changes from "is teledentistry safe," to "how can dentists reassure their patients that teledentistry is safe." Dentists should look for opportunities to educate their patients regarding the many growing regulations governing teledentistry and well as the favorable outcomes that research continues to discover. Working to help patients see the benefits and safety of teledentistry services will go a long way in its long term adoption.
Teledentistry Challenge #2: Patients Internet Literacy and Access
Another huge problem facing teledentistry is patients who are not internet savvy or lack access to a computer. This problem is particularly prevalent in rural areas, but can be seen all around the country. These are significant problems as those living in rural or remote areas stand to gain the most from widespread teledentistry.
The problem stems from the lack of high-speed internet access in many rural areas. These places can have limited or even no internet providers. And even those who do, often have spotty connections at best. Because most teledentistry services require high-speed internet capabilities for items such as video conferencing and the like, limited internet access restricts people’s ability in these areas to take advantage of teledentistry. to utilize, .
The other problem is the patients' general lack of computer and internet knowledge. People without exposure to technology generally are more hesitant to adopt technology-driven solutions. Given that teledentistry is entirely technology-driven, this is a concern for its growth. In many cases, more exposure is the solution, and that often comes from improved access to the internet.
Another problem is educating potential patients about how to use teledentistry services, specifically. This issue is prevalent in rural and more impoverished communities that have less access to internet services. This problem also disproportionately affects the elderly who might not be as familiar with constantly changing technology.
Teledentistry Challenge #3: Billing and Insurance Restrictions
Billing and insurance is also an issue on both sides of the table. Dentists and patients have to be aware and understand these rules, and it can be a tricky proposition for both.
For dentists, figuring out tax and billing guidelines can be tricky. Not all teledentistry services fit neatly in the existing structure, which means extra work for dentists and their staff.
Patients are also concerned about whether or not their insurance covers teledentistry services. While some services are covered, others are not. This problem is further exacerbated by varying laws between states and what rules they impose on insurance carriers.
Teledentistry Challenge #4: New and Existing Laws Change How Teledentistry Can Be Provided
Laws also play an essential role in the adoption of teledentistry. Various states are writing legislation to regulate the industry, and each state has its state-specific requirements and restrictions.
The fact that teledentistry laws differ from state to state further complicates the issue and, in some cases, impacts the availability of teledentistry. For example, a Texas law effectively makes many teledentistry services illegal by requiring dentists to make both a visual and tactile examination before any treatment. Dentists have to be aware of these existing laws and keep up with any newly passed legislation.
Teledentistry Challenge #5: Lack of Contact With Patients
Lastly, something many dentists are concerned about is a lack of direct contact with their patients. Although teledentistry services make remote visits possible, this can still be a difficult adjustment for dentists.
Many dentists have spent their entire career working face to face with patients, and this kind of change can be a bit jarring. While many have made the transition to virtual care seamlessly, others may be more reluctant.
Many teledentistry companies are working to make their services as easy to use as possible. An easy-to-use service lowers the barrier for both dentists and patients and makes the transition to virtual care easier.
How Dentist's Challenges Affect Patients
While the above has primarily been focused on challenges dentists face, patients must also understand these obstacles to be better equipped to make the transition to teledentistry as smooth as possible. Being able to empathize with your dentist goes a long way toward being on the same page.