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SHARE to Improve Your Virtual Connection with Patients

Framework aims to promote better virtual patient-provider communication

The move to adopt teledentistry has been fast, thanks to the new realities the COVID-19 pandemic has created. “Going to the dentist” will likely look much different in the months — and potentially years — ahead.  

In fact, according to a recent survey developed by the DentaQuest Partnership for Oral Health Advancement, 4 in 10 dental providers are either currently seeing patients through telehealth platforms (27%) or soon expect to offer services through these platforms (13%). The Dental Provider Return to Work Survey also found that providers younger than 35 years of age, Medicaid-oriented practices and those anticipating long-term changes in dentistry were particularly likely to embrace telehealth platforms. In addition, nearly half (48%) of providers strongly or somewhat agreed that telehealth tools are more important than before for screening or evaluating patients. 

That doesn’t mean the transition will be easy, though. Knowing the right thing to say — and how to say it — isn’t intuitive and calls for different skills for care teams than those developed in traditional training. In other words, teledentistry poses unique challenges to building rapport with patients and communicating in a patient-centered fashion.  

To help, Matthew Allen, DDS, and Carolyn Brown, DDS, MA, advisors to the DentaQuest Partnership for Oral Health Advancement, have developed a helpful framework — SHARE — to guide these new virtual appointments.  

The following is an excerpt from an article published in the BDJ In Practice earlier this month. View the full article, including additional content and examples. 

1. Setting and speech matter. Creating a welcoming and professional setting is paramount for a stellar teledental encounter. Avoid distracting or cluttered backgrounds, use warm lighting and disable distractions on your screen like email and notifications. 

2. Hold eye contact by looking at the camera. While it may seem relatively obvious, eye contact in a teledental setting is achieved not by looking at the patient, but at the camera. Eye contact helps create a sense of empathy, building and strengthening a relationship strained by lack of physical presence.  

3. Ask open-ended questions. We must rely heavily on our auditory skills, mostly hearing a patient's story, with limited or varied visuotactile input, to help us make a diagnosis and arrive with the patient at a treatment decision consistent with their values and preferences. Open-ended questions allow the patient to share these critical pieces of information more freely.  

4. Relationally share information. Inevitably, we must share information and evidence with patients when making shared treatment decisions. Using the style and skills of motivational interviewing, providers should guide the collaborative encounter with something called the Elicit-Provide-Elicit framework to help involve the patients in this process. Sharing information in this way builds trust, letting the patient know you care about hearing what matters to them. 

5. Express warmth and gratitude. At the start of the teledental visit, smile and virtually hand-hold through their virtual teledental visit, especially if it is their first time utilizing it. You might inquire how the patient is coping with COVID-19. Have a script at-the-ready, with reputable resources on COVID-19 in case they want to discuss the virus or community implications.  

Editor's Note:

View the full BDJ In Practice article, including additional content and examples. And to see a video with the authors demonstrating the SHARE framework and other teledentistry resources, visit the DentaQuest Partnership website.