The COVID-19 crisis is having a dramatic impact on dentistry. In fact, the American Dental Association has recommended that dentists forego elective procedures on all patients and carefully consider performing non-emergency treatment on patients suspected of having COVID-19.
As states begin to reopen their economies, social distancing guidelines must continue to be followed, which means dental practices need to adapt. One effective tool that dental practices should consider utilizing during the novel coronavirus pandemic is teledentistry. The best way to determine the risks and rewards of relying on teledentistry is to consult with an attorney who provides legal services to dental professionals.
What is Teledentistry?
Like other telehealth systems, teledentistry provides for the delivery of services from a distance through the use of video and teleconferencing and advanced data storage technologies. Ultimately, teledentistry can help to protect patients and staff from COVID-19 and also prevent community spread of the disease.
In particular, teledentistry provides for:
- Live video conferencing between dentists and patients
- Storage and transmission of health information (e.g. radiographs, photos, video, and digital impressions) to evaluate a patient’s condition or provide a service virtually
- Sending diagnoses and treatment recommendations to the patient via a secured electronic communications system
In short, teledentistry provides dentists with a convenient way to communicate with and screen patients to determine the best course of treatment. Because many dental practices have been postponing elective and non-emergency procedures, many people have delayed dental care. Teledentistry provides patients with convenient access to a dental provider who can provide an initial consultation, treat or refer them to a specialist if necessary, and continue to monitor them from a distance.
It is worth noting that the ADA’s policy on teledentistry requires that services provided through teledentistry are performed in accordance with applicable laws and regulations regarding the handling of patient’s private health information, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
In addition, the ADA recommends dentists follow accepted data exchange standards, such as Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine (DICOM) standards, when using imaging systems to exchange patient information. Finally, the ADA policy holds dentists responsible for ensuring that the quality and safety of services provided through teledentistry is consistent with in-person services.
While teledentistry can provide patients who have delayed care during the pandemic with access to a skilled dental professional, dentistry remains a hands-on practice. By relying on teledentistry to screen and monitor patients, however, the number of office visits can be mitigated, which can help dental practices schedule appointments with social distancing guidelines in place. Although the COVID-19 crisis is an unprecedented challenge, technological advances such as teledentistry and electronic data storage can help your dental practice weather the storm.