Teledentistry Bridges the Gap for Patient Care in Trying Times

Published Date 06/23/2020
 

Teledentistry Bridges the Gap for Patient Care in Trying Times

In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, the dental world is buzzing with the concept of teledentistry. While it may feel like an emerging technology, teledentistry is far from new. Its birth actually dates back to 1994, when a U.S. Army military project proved teledentistry could reduce patient care costs and extend dental care to distant and rural areas. However, despite its obvious benefits, teledentistry has been underutilized until now.

The arrival of a pandemic has triggered significant inter­est in teledentistry and telemedicine. Thanks to incredible technological advances in software and computer technol­ogy, telecommunications, digital imaging services, and analytical devices, we are now in a much better position to deliver valuable services remotely. At this moment, teleden­tistry has not only allowed distances to be crossed where it was previously impossible, but it has allowed a continuity of care with partial or complete management of the patient at a critical time.

Today, teledentistry promises to increase access to oral healthcare, improve its delivery, and lower its costs. It will assist patients in getting second opinions quicker; help fearful patients take the first steps to finding a dentist; bet­ter facilitate the process of diagnosis, pre-authorizations, and medical clearances; and provide new opportunities in dental education for dental students and practicing dentists.

With my New York City practice closed to nonemergency care for several weeks due to COVID-19, I launched a HIPAA-compliant and secure teledentistry website. This technology allows me to see my patients when they are unable to physically visit my office. It’s my hope that this teledentistry site will help other patients communicate with me for second opinions and emergencies, and perhaps it will help them decide if they feel comfortable in my care prior to choosing me as their dentist.

 

"We should expect an increase in both telemedicine and teledentistry as practices embrace this whole new era of dentistry."

 

Adapting to a New Era of Dentistry

As we adapt to changing times and become comfort­able with new and innovative ways of treating our patients, we must remember the ethical and legal considerations of teledentistry. Medicolegal and copyright issues are im­minent, and a lack of well-defined rules or laws could be problematic. The security of medical information stored in computers is paramount, and diligent care should be taken to secure a patient's privacy using HIPAA-compliant soft­ware. Patients should be made aware that their information is being transmitted electronically using special informed consent forms for teledentistry. Because they are not being seen in the office, they also should be notified of the inher­ent risk of misdiagnosis or, when necessary, be given the chance to come into the office for more definite diagnoses.

In the future, we should expect an increase in both telemedicine and teledentistry as dental clinics and private practices embrace this whole new era of dentistry. Eventu­ally, we could even see robotic control of dentistry, espe­cially in locations where dental care is unavailable or not possible, such as in space or very remote areas. Teleden­tistry is of great value in our field and is a reminder of how much technology has improved our lives and our dentistry.

 

Sharde Harvey, DDS
Sharde Harvey, DDS,
is a general dentist with extensive training in full-mouth cosmetic rehabilitation. A 2004 graduate of the New York University College of Dentistry, she has been in practice for over 15 years. Her practice, Upper East Side Dental Innovations in New York, NY, provides a full range of cosmetic, restorative, and general dental services for patients of all ages in Manhattan.

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