Digital payment, virtual care + the future of teledentistry: 3 questions with Aspen Dental's CIO

Yogish Suvarna, CIO of Aspen Dental Management, discussed with Becker's Dental + DSO Review the role teledentistry has played at Aspen Dental practices over the past year.

Editor's note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Question: Is teledentistry currently a larger, similar or smaller part of Aspen Dental compared to this time last year?

Yogish Suvarna: When the coronavirus pandemic forced dental offices across the U.S. to shutter in March, Aspen Dental quickly pivoted to implement systems that allow patients and dentists to connect virtually. We launched new virtual care initiatives that include teledentistry to triage patients, while continuing to provide care to those with dental emergencies or urgent needs in accordance with the ADA [American Dental Association] and state guidelines. We do have a long-term strategy to offer Aspen Dental Virtual Care for a range of dental services, including the ortho service line. The virtual care utilization is lower now, as all offices are open to see all patients. The platform is still available in most Aspen Dental locations, but most calls are converted into an in-person appointment by the virtual consult.

Q: What changes has Aspen Dental seen since the digital check-in debut in June?

YS: In June 2020, Aspen Dental debuted the first completely digital check-in experience offered across a dental network of scale, helping serve more than 4,500 patients daily. The technology has helped streamline the check-in process considerably — an Aspen Dental representative scans a patient's driver's license and insurance card, which immediately auto-populates the data into the patient management system. This effort actually cuts check-in time in half, saving more than 1,000 hours of non-patient support time per office each year and an average of 15 minutes per patient.

Aspen Dental now offers digital payments to support digital patient check-out. The digital payments feature is implemented within Aspen Dental's patient management system using Rectangle Health's digital payment product. This feature allows offices to securely collect contactless payments by sending patients a text message to their mobile devices. Payments are posted back in real-time to the patients' accounts. The digital payment feature is easier for our patients, who can pre-pay for specialty appointments days in advance and make appointment payments from the safety of their car. Virtual care patients can pre-pay for their appointment as well. Additionally, digital payments will reduce the paper billing processing costs. Digital Payments is live in six Aspen Dental locations and will be fully rolled out by the end of [the second quarter of] 2021. When fully implemented, thousands of patients will be able to make a payment with the click of a button.

Q: Where is teledentistry headed? Can dentists forgo teledentistry and still remain relevant/successful?

YS: In an increasingly digital world, teledentistry services are playing a heightened role in everyday dental practices. As teledentistry evolves, it will offer new opportunities to improve the level of patient access and care. A recent report from the DentaQuest Partnership for Oral Health Advancement found that 75 percent of providers who use telehealth services expect telehealth volume to increase or stay the same during the next 12 months, setting the pace in making teledentistry a part of general practice.

Dentistry is an essential part of healthcare, and dentists will certainly remain successful without implementing teledentistry technology. However, the use of these virtual offerings allows dentists to expand their patient base, particularly in underserved communities such as rural areas or economically disadvantaged populations that are reluctant to seek in-person care.

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