MouthWatch CEO: National teledentistry policy needed to eliminate 'Swiss cheese' coverage map

The efficiency and convenience offered through teledentistry services is something patients will continue to seek long after the pandemic ends, according to Brant Herman, co-founder and CEO of Metuchen, N.J.-based teledentistry company MouthWatch.

Teledentistry services have been adopted by more dentists than usual since the pandemic began, as the technology offered by companies such as MouthWatch help dentists conserve personal protective equipment, mitigate infection risks and reach patients who cannot easily visit a dentist in-person.

November survey results from the DentaQuest Partnership show 75 percent of dental providers predict an increased reliance on teledentistry in coming years. Mr. Herman, who co-founded MouthWatch in 2012, agrees with this prediction, as he believes technology that allows providers to connect virtually with patients improves a practice's efficiency, reach and customer service.

Here, Mr. Herman shared his thoughts about teledentistry with Becker's Dental Review.

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

Question: Teledentistry saw increased growth this year due to the pandemic. Why will teledentistry remain important after the pandemic is over?

Brant Herman: The jury is still out on how long the pandemic will last, how many spikes will occur or if there will be additional closures and emergency care only restrictions. If we've learned anything, it’s that dentistry is very vulnerable in these types of situations.

Teledentistry can help DSOs and group practices adapt to almost anything that disrupts the typical day-to-day operation — whether it be another pandemic or a natural disaster. Furthermore, patients were already primed for this type of convenience from their healthcare providers, and COVID only accelerated their desire for this type of connectivity and convenience.

In addition, the pandemic has taught us that efficiency and scalability are of the utmost importance. For the immediate future, groups and DSOs will need to do more with less — to squeeze every drop from the orange, so to speak. When you are forced to see fewer patients on any given day, you need to supplement this new standard operating procedure with a viable alternative, such as teledentistry.

When used in the current post-COVID-19 environment, teledentistry can help preserve and improve the bottom line. It can also make it easy for patients to feel connected to your practice when not in the chair. When the veil of the pandemic is lifted, the efficiency and scalability of teledentistry can propel dramatic growth.

Q: What do you have to say to patients who fear they won’t receive quality care from a virtual visit?

BH: A virtual consultation can't replace every personal encounter with your dentist, but it can significantly reduce the time and travel required for routine consultations, oral health coaching, treatment plan presentations and certain post-operative check-ins. Busy people appreciate this, and who's not busy these days?

What's more, transitioning some in-person visits to virtual equivalents whether synchronous or asynchronous, reduces the risk of infectious disease transmission, not only during a pandemic, but during the traditional cold and flu season. When you combine virtual consultations with prioritized in-office visits, you'll receive a higher level of care that you will soon begin to prefer.

Q: What are the biggest challenges facing the teledentistry field right now?

BH: There are several that come to mind. First, there's the perception that video conferencing and teledentistry are synonymous, when only a robust, HIPAA-compliant platform designed specifically to enhance the dental work flow, improve peer-to-peer collaboration and enable smartphone-friendly patient encounters should be considered a true teledentistry solution. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has prompted a gold rush of "teledentistry lite" applications.

Second, not all teledentistry consults have to be live video. This is time consuming, especially as practices are busy managing patients. A platform with integrated messaging and video conference allows for efficient consultations that can become video visits when needed.

The lack of a cohesive and formalized national teledentistry policy perpetuates a Swiss cheese coverage map of optimal access to care. If every state had favorable, non-restrictive teledentistry regulations and standards, we would eventually have an oral care infrastructure that will have a positive impact on the overall state of health in America. There should also be more widespread insurance reimbursement policies.

Lastly, the perception that DSOs and group practices don't need to make a long-term investment in teledentistry because they believe it won't be useful after the pandemic subsides. Truth be told, going back to inefficient workflows, infectious disease vulnerability and patient inconvenience will be like going back to foot pedal-powered dental drills. Who wants that? What’s more, FaceTime won't work for the long haul and teledentistry can be used for much more than covering for a doctor when they're on vacation.

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