For patients interested in finding teledentistry services, it’s imperative to be aware of the relevant laws and regulations and how they might vary depending on where you live. With the rapid expansion of telehealth and teledentistry, laws and regulations will differ (and are evolving) by state. While teledentistry services are broadly allowed in most states, the intricacies of each state’s laws will dictate what services will be available to you as a patient.
Teledentistry Laws Differ by State
While some states have extensive legislation surrounding the industry, others have little to no laws explicitly dealing with teledentistry or telehealth services.
There is also some overlap with existing dental laws that can limit the adoption of teledentistry in certain states. For example, a law in Texas limits a dentist’s ability to offer teledentistry services. While it doesn’t outright ban teledentistry, the implications of the law make it effectively illegal as it requires a dentist to document the findings of a “tactile and visual examination” before providing care. These types of requirements vary across the country.
This overlap is also essential in driving the quality of teledentistry care. You should expect the same high level of attention from a teledentistry service provider as you would in-person dental care. These existing laws also address patient privacy concerns around medical data, which is already covered by HIPAA laws.
A Large Number of States Have Little or No Teledentistry Regulations
While a handful of states, like California, have extensive teledentistry laws, while others have little to no regulations. These regulations often dictate who must provide care and what services they can do. They also dictate insurance and which services must be covered.
For example, in Utah, dental hygienists can treat patients without an on-site dentist. Illinois, on the other hand, only allows dental hygienists to treat patients who can’t make it into an office due to illness.
In states that lack regulation, teledentistry guidance often falls back on traditional dental laws to govern what services are available to patients. However, these conventional dental laws also vary by state.
Some State Teledentistry Laws Are Stricter Than Others
For states that do have regulations, the limitations can vary widely. Some are quite lax in what is allowed, while others are not as liberal. The example above between Utah and Illinois is just one example of this. Many other states have significant differences in what teledentistry services their regulations limit.
Outside of traditional dental care, things like medication prescription or in-home orthodontics have other sets of laws that govern their usage. These laws also vary by state and will need to be considered when researching these services.
State Teledentistry Laws Are Evolving
It’s also important to know that laws are not static; they change over time and sometimes quite rapidly. California, for example, passed a law in early 2020 that significantly increased patient rights. Even in states without current regulations, regulations can be enacted very quickly. As teledentistry continues to grow, state governments are likely to put new rules in place to protect patients. And even if teledentistry is currently not available in your state, that may not always be the case.
Teledentistry Laws Regarding Insurance
Another point of concern for patients is whether teledentistry services are covered by insurance. Both the laws and the coverage allowances or this vary by state. Some states are much more proactive in encouraging insurance companies to cover teledentistry services.
Alabama, for example, has no sort of laws requiring insurance companies to cover teledentistry services. Alaska, on the other hand, requires that coverage is provided in the same manner and at the same rates as in-person visits. These examples show two different policies, but bear in mind there are many in-betweens in terms of what is covered. For example, some states might only require coverage of particular services.
Another range of laws deals with Medicare. In general, most states provide teledentistry coverage through Medicare. This coverage isn’t universally consistent, however. For example, many states provide reimbursement for live video telemedicine only.
The ADA’s Stance on Teledentistry
Outside of state laws, the ADA also has specific policies on teledentistry. These are the guidelines that accredited dentists must follow when administering teledentistry services.
In general, these guidelines are put in place to protect patients’ health and privacy. Policies include a range of patient protections such as requiring the dentist to be licensed in the patient’s state or requiring dentists to be able to provide patients with access to the dentist’s board accreditation documents.
State Laws and the Future of Teledentistry
With teledentistry growing in popularity, it’s no surprise that more and more states are adopting guidelines and regulations to govern the movement. In the next few years, many states that currently lack laws will likely begin to draft them. And as teledentistry and telehealth continue to expand, you are likely to see even more state laws that follow teledentistry’s growth and increased usage.