Refining the Process: Safety Net Dental Professionals’ Experiences with Teledentistry Implementation During the First Year of COVID-19

Published 11/18/2022

“During the first 2 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, teledentistry use increased by 60 times,” according to CareQuest Institute researchers in a new article in the Journal of Public Health Dentistry.

The article shares key findings from interviews with 21 dental professionals about their experience with teledentistry during the first year of the pandemic — and what those professionals envision for the future of teledentistry. Three common themes emerged from the interviews: 

Logistical and equity considerations:  Reimbursement, physical space, and some patients’ exclusion from technology shaped adoption of teledentistry.

“It just did not seem to be adopted well by our patients. There were some issues about how we will generate income out of using teledentistry. [Patients] think they are just calling in and getting a prescription. They do not think they should be charged. Is Medicaid going to pay for it or not?”

Team-based factors: Some team members preferred face-to-face patient treatment while others appreciated that teledentistry allowed them to continue treating patients safely by limiting the number of team members on site. 

“We found [their model] to be very beneficial, a great new access point for our patients with the asynchronous telehealth. We plan to keep it and boost it and help it grow even after COVID. We wanted to have as many people working from home at that time as we possibly could.” 

Future of teledentistry is undetermined: While some providers were skeptical about the diagnostic and treatment capabilities of teledentistry, others felt that demand would grow over time. 

“As people have gotten used to that and telemedicine and telehealth in general, I think that demand for that is only going to grow. Once you let the genie out . . . you are not going to get it back in the bottle.” 

The authors conclude that the likelihood of future pandemics makes it necessary for teledentistry to be part of a strategy to plan for dental public health emergencies.

Read the article in the Journal of Public Health Dentistry (subscription required)

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