Survey Finds Seventy-Five Percent of Dentists Anticipate Steady or Increased Reliance on Telehealth in Coming Months
Telehealth utilization opens doors for expanded oral health care, increased revenue, better health outcomes
Three in four dentists who are using telehealth anticipate a steady or increased reliance on the technology over the coming months as they continue to navigate the COVID-19 crisis and resume routine care, according to a new report by the DentaQuest Partnership for Oral Health Advancement.
The report, based on an August survey of nearly 2,800 dental providers across 20 states, found that nearly a quarter (23%) of dental providers are seeing patients via telehealth or virtual platforms. Additionally, 11% of providers who are not currently utilizing telehealth for patient care have plans to use it in the near future. This utilization rate is consistent with the 27% of providers who were seeing patients via telehealth in June when dental offices were largely limited to providing urgent and non-elective services, showing significant promise for the longevity of telehealth in dentistry.
“The numerous challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to providers and the oral health community has created a real opportunity for a new path forward in dentistry,” said Dr. Sean Boynes, vice president of health improvement at the DentaQuest Partnership for Oral Health Advancement. “Now is the time for innovation, to create a new model of oral health care, one that will be cost-effective, efficient and more equitable for all. What we’re seeing is that telehealth adoption and application is fast becoming a key tool for dentists to provide care that enhances disease prevention and whole-person health.”
Telehealth—primarily done through phone calls and virtual video meeting software—has been used to provide a wide variety of dental services, including COVID-19 symptom screenings, mouth/teeth examinations, referrals, patient triage, pain management and oral hygiene instruction. Survey findings suggest that while dental providers are primarily using telehealth for prescribing medication and triaging patients, there is a significant opportunity to expand its use for more preventive services.
Among providers, the report found that those in public health settings used telehealth the most, along with those in states like Pennsylvania, Washington, Florida, Kentucky and Arizona — likely as a result of favorable payment and coverage policies in those states. Additionally, providers who are not seeing their patient volume return to near-normal levels, serve primarily Medicaid patients and anticipate long-term changes in dentistry were more likely to embrace telehealth. In fact, dentists with more than half of patients enrolled in Medicaid were 39% more likely to use telehealth platforms.
As a result of telehealth utilization, providers are finding increasing opportunities for financial sustainability. According to the report, telehealth users are 34% more likely to be familiar with alternative payment models (APMs) and 45% more likely to have an increased interest in learning about APMs. As the oral health industry begins to embrace value-based care and shift toward APMs, telehealth can provide additional revenue while enhancing dental care access for current and new patients. Furthermore, it can offer cost-savings by providing access to primary and preventive care and keeping patients out of emergency departments for non-emergency dental needs.
As growth in telehealth utilization continues in oral health, permanent policy changes are vital for the widespread adoption of telehealth-enabled preventive services, minimally invasive care and care coordination. Providers and state policymakers should act now to ensure that policies permit members of the dental workforce to deliver telehealth services, as well as update reimbursement policies so that both public and private insurers cover remote provider-patient interactions through live video or store-and-forward mechanisms.
“Telehealth brings a wide range of benefits to the future of oral health care. It is key to expanding value-based care in our communities and improving outcomes for both oral health and overall health,” said Dr. Myechia Minter-Jordan, president and CEO of the DentaQuest Partnership for Oral Health Advancement and Catalyst Institute, Inc. “As we continue to leverage telehealth as a short-term solution for the pandemic, we must ensure its longevity to make it part of the dental ecosystem moving forward. That means taking the necessary steps right now to remove barriers that may prevent the widespread adoption or utilization of telehealth in the future.”
Read the full report here.
About The DentaQuest Partnership for Oral Health Advancement
The DentaQuest Partnership for Oral Health Advancement is a nonprofit organization working to transform the broken health care system and enable better health through oral health. Through strategic grantmaking, research and care improvement initiatives, we drive meaningful change at the local, state and national levels. The DentaQuest Partnership is affiliated with DentaQuest, a leading U.S. oral health enterprise with a mission to improve the oral health of all. Find out more at www.dentaquestpartnership.org.