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Inside Dentistry
February 2022
Volume 18, Issue 2

My Teledentistry Journey

Creating positive experiences during an extremely negative time

Zeynep Barakat, DMD

Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I had never considered using teledentistry. I was familiar with telemedicine, but I had never imagined how the concept could be leveraged to help dentists and our patients until I attended a few webinars about teledentistry during the shutdown. At the height of the pandemic, several of my patients were postponing dental care, so we offered teledentistry consultations to them as a way to communicate about any concerns or dental conditions without having to come to the office.

This virtual consultation option was well received, and it helped me to stay connected with our patients and ensure continuity of care throughout the pandemic. Although some of my medically compromised and other patients preferred not to visit the office until the pandemic had eased, many were already familiar with using online communication platforms to work remotely and attend telemedicine appointments; therefore, it came as no surprise that they were very comfortable with teledentistry. It gave patients the assurance of having a face-to-face visit with their dentist while allowing them to do it virtually from the comfort of their own homes.

Regarding optimizing the use of operatories and personal protective equipment (PPE), the ability to transition office visits to virtual consultations to discuss pending or previous treatment was invaluable to our practice. When you don't need to clean and occupy a room for a consultation or treatment plan review, that room and its related materials and PPE can be utilized for actual treatment. We primarily used teledentistry to explain treatment plan options after all of the clinical data had been collected in the office, but we also used it to triage patients and determine the next steps for their dental concerns. Teledentistry was instrumental in keeping these half-hour consultation appointments outside of our productive treatment schedules, which freed up time to schedule more profitable procedures in the office and ensured more efficient use of chair time, employee time, and PPE.

Beyond realizing efficiencies, implementing teledentistry also helped me improve my overall rate of case acceptance. I found that, when compared with treatment plan presentations conducted in the dental chair, treatment plan presentations conducted via teledentistry were often more successful. There may be several underlying reasons for this, but in my opinion, some patients are less distracted by time constraints and other factors when in their own homes. I also believe that patients are better able to absorb information about their treatment needs when they are in their own homes as opposed to being in the dental office because it is a source of anxiety for many.

Another way that I began using teledentistry, perhaps my favorite, was to communicate with specialists. Uploading JPEG files of high-quality digital photographs to a teledentistry platform is a much more efficient way to share them with specialists than trying to send them by email as attachments, which can slow down the process of communication and is frequently not compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act privacy and security rules. With teledentistry, I can post photographs, radiographs, and other data on a patient's chart, write up a proposed treatment plan, and share it all with anyone on my list of specialists. They receive a message alerting them to review the case before I even refer the patient to them. In this manner, specialists are given a preview of what to expect as well as the option to have a preliminary discussion with me about the specifics of the case. They also have the ability to send messages back to me within their own preferred time frames. In addition to improving the exchange of information between providers, this process also reduces specialists' consultation times for referred patients.

I do believe that there is a permanent place for teledentistry in my practice because patients are very receptive toward it, particularly considering the frequent use of Zoom and other online modalities that we have all embraced as a result of the pandemic. I intend to continue to offer it. With the screen sharing feature, a virtual consultation is very much like being in the dental office; however, the costs associated with an in-person consultation are avoided and the benefits of the patient being comfortable in his or her own home are realized. Teledentistry helped me create positive experiences during an extremely negative time. It became a valuable service for my patients, my practice, and my specialty dentists, and it will continue to be one for years to come.

About the Author

Zeynep Barakat, DMD, is a fellow of the Academy of General Dentistry, and she owns a private practice in San Diego, California.

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