10:16 AM

Providers Worry about PPE, New Protocols

Survey and webinar show that “new normal” will provide unique challenges for vulnerable populations and practices that serve them

More than 3,900 predominantly Medicaid dental providers recently shared their insights in a new survey on what the “new normal” will look like across the country in the coming months. Stress, uncertainty and challenging new protocols were top of mind for many — especially for providers who care for our most vulnerable populations.  

“These providers are important to understand because they serve a particularly high risk population with significant unmet dental needs who are also at significant risk of having their benefits cut,” said Eric Tranby, data and impact manager for the DentaQuest Partnership for Oral Health Advancement, in a recent webinar about the survey’s findings.  

The DentaQuest Partnership webinar, which shared the outcomes of the survey and an analysis of the data, drew several hundred providers from around the country. Madhuli Thakkar, a biostatistician with the DentaQuest Partnership, and Tranby provided a detailed analysis of the data on the call.  

“Many dental practices have shut down and shed a huge portion of jobs in March and April,” said Tranby. “Despite this, we’re seeing profound and rapid recovery in the dental industry.” 

A Crisis of Confidence  

The recovery isn’t necessarily smooth or easy, though. Tranby and Thakkar discussed a confidence gap among dentists in their ability to implement the new infection protocols and other COVID-related safety measures. This reflects the challenging economic realities that Medicaid dental providers are facing and has serious implications for the patients they serve. Most notably, 94% of respondents agreed they should secure personal protective equipment (PPE), yet only 59% had confidence they can acquire it.  

Further, 65% of providers agree their dental practice should reduce the spread of aerosols through the air, yet only half (50%) were confident they could do so. Medicaid-oriented providers, where more than half of patients are Medicaid-enrolled, were 23% more likely to have a confidence gap. 

”Fortunately, there is reason to believe the confidence gap is narrowing,” said Thakkar. “Providers who responded during the second half of the survey period were 40% less likely to report a confidence gap. I think, over time, this gap will continue to narrow as people become more confident about securing PPE.” 

Embracing Telehealth as a Long-Term Solution 

These struggles have forced providers and patients to embrace the use of telehealth and other virtual platforms at a rapid rate. Many see it not just as a crisis tool, but a promising long-term solution. 

Four in 10 dental providers say they are currently seeing patients through telehealth platforms (27%) or soon expect to offer services through these platforms (13%). Providers younger than 35 years of age, those in Medicaid-oriented practices, and those anticipating long-term changes in dentistry were particularly likely to embrace telehealth platforms. Patients are also increasingly requesting the service. A recent survey of patients who had a telehealth encounter in Oregon found that more than 8 in 10 patients (86%) were satisfied with their overall teledentistry experience. 

“We’re seeing dramatic and swift changes in the environment of telehealth overall,” said Tranby. “Many of the providers who reported using teledentistry also have a profoundly future-looking orientation. As they anticipate changes to the future of dentistry, they see telehealth and virtual platforms as an important tool that is here to stay.”  

An Opportunity to Define the “New Normal”  

The webcast and survey made it clear that there is no “going back to normal” for dentistry, especially while the COVID-19 threat still looms. They also highlighted the need to embrace reforms to maintain oral health access, particularly for some of the most vulnerable populations.  

Embracing telehealth technologies can allow providers to engage more patient outreach, increase access in underserved and rural areas, reinforce healthy behaviors, provide education and explore minimally invasive treatment options, as well as triage and direct patients to appropriate care. Those changes bring uncertainty, but they also bring opportunity.  

“These changes can create profound innovations,” Tranby said. “They can make dental care safer and more effective. They may actually strengthen the oral health system by increasing access to care, helping to maintain revenue and decreasing treatment costs.”  

Editor's Notes:

Watch the webinar or download the webinar slides: Provider Survey Reveals the Need to Adapt and Redesign 

Read the report that shares findings from the survey: Dental Care’s “New Normal”