With teledentistry supplementing traditional dental services for millions of Americans, many patients are looking to learn more about it. As with any healthcare service, consumers are looking to ensure that their safety and privacy are maintained, and the quality of service is acceptable. Telehealth, and teledentistry, in particular, are no different. In this article, we'll answer many of your questions surrounding teledentistry regulations and restrictions and how these regulations protect you.
Teledentistry Laws Protect Patients
First off, patients can be confident that patient protection organizations are pushing for regulations for the teledentistry industry. Many states are creating laws centered around teledentistry to help protect patients. As the industry continues to evolve, more requirements are likely to be added.
California, for example, recently passed a series of laws that provide patient protection and recourse for improper care. These laws are popping up in many states, not just California; nearly every state currently has legislation passed or pending related to teledentistry.
It's important to note that laws do differ between states. It's smart to do a bit of research to know what rules apply to where you live. They can vary greatly, and therefore provide more or less protection in the rare event of an issue.
The American Dental Association (ADA) has also put forth policy and guidelines for dental professionals looking to incorporate teledentistry methods into their practice. These are policies that ADA-accredited dentists must follow. There's a number of them, but they all boil down to protecting patient's rights. Many of these policies guarantee that your teledental visit will have the same protections as an in-person visit. These protections include things like being licensed in the patient's state or requiring that proof of board certification be accessible to patients.
It also clearly defines safety responsibilities for dentists providing teledentistry methods. It explicitly puts patient safety in their hands and requires them to ensure the proper quality of care of any teledentistry service they offer.
In most cases, your dental records and health information are protected by HIPAA laws. These laws provide a range of privacy rights for patients and extend to teledentistry services as well. Teledentistry companies should expect patients to hold them to a higher standard of privacy security due to their handling of sensitive medical information.
It's essential to understand what types of protections HIPAA provides to you as a patient and what teledentistry companies must do to be compliant with these protections.
You should be talking to potential companies and asking them about their privacy policies. Be wary of companies that don't have clear privacy policies, or aren't forthright in sharing them with you. Reputable companies are eager to alleviate any concerns you have in regards to the privacy of sensitive medical information.
Most companies should also have public-facing privacy and personal information security documents. This document should touch on fundamental policies such as:
- Who as access to your information
- What third parties it shares with
- Why they need your information
- Any other privacy rights you have
Patient Safety Concerns With Teledentistry Services
Patient safety is another significant concern. When you're having dental work done or medications prescribed, it's important to know that it's being done safely.
Fortunately for patients, studies have shown that teledentistry services provide a similar level of care to in-person visits. One six-year study conducted by the University of the Pacific showed that "virtual dental homes" are safe and effective. Some key findings of the research include:
- Two-thirds of children and over half of seniors can have a dental hygienist handle their oral care needs with no need to see a dentist.
- No adverse outcomes happened as a result of any of the hygienist-performed procedures.
- Virtual dental homes increased prevention and early intervention, ultimately preventing serious issues.
- These services came at a lower cost per patient than the current system.
Part of this is about doing your due diligence when researching a company. Make sure to work with reputable companies that have had time to build a reputation and have a track record of success.
You likely do research when buying any product, and teledentistry should be no different. Shop around and find a provider with a proven track record that you can trust.
What Types of Services Can Teledentistry Companies Provide?
Teledentistry companies can provide a wide range of preventative care, including basic procedures such as routine examinations. These procedures aren't invasive and don't require a dentist to work on your mouth physically. Many teledental check-ups mainly provide feedback to patients and monitor ongoing care.
Teledentistry services also provide a range of in-home services. Medications are commonly prescribed remotely, which is extremely convenient for patients.
In-home orthodontics is another popular teledentistry service that a large number of companies offer. Most times, this does require an initial in-person consultation, but subsequent check-ups can be conducted utilizing teledentistry methods.
All teledentistry services are performed remotely, so only services that are deemed safe can be done virtually.
What are the Limitations of Teledentistry?
While teledentistry is excellent for a lot of routine tasks, it's not capable of completely replacing a visit to the dentist. Several things can't be done over virtual communication.
Any surgery will undoubtedly require an in-person visit. Even less severe procedures such as simple filings cannot be done remotely for logical reasons.
It's also essential to know of any laws related to previous care that a company might need to follow. In some states, you may need to have previous examinations or X-rays on file before being able to proceed with care under a new provider.
Does Insurance Cover Teledentistry Services?
Another big concern for patients is the costs of teledentistry and whether the various services are covered by insurance. Modern patients are cost savvy, and an expensive, non-covered procedure might be a restriction in and of itself.
At the current time, many teledentistry services are not covered, although insurance companies are working to cover these services in the future. More services will likely be covered in the future, but you'll want to talk to the dental provider and your insurance before you use any service.
With that in mind, many follow-up procedures that might be required can often be covered. Many teledentistry services will work with you for any referrals and make sure that your insurance covers the provider they refer you to. Referring you to a dentist in-network can ultimately save money as teledentistry is often less expensive upfront than traditional dental services.
Restrictions on Teledentistry
While telehealth has seen tremendous growth in the past few years, teledentistry still is not a total replacement for traditional dental services. There are still many procedures and requirements that will require in-person visits, and many of these restrictions are put in place for patient safety. It is an attractive supplement to traditional dental services and promises to make dental care easier to obtain and more affordable for millions of people all over the country.