The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated digital innovations in many industries—from e-commerce, to entertainment, to health care—driving organizations to adapt their business models to provide products and services to their customers and remain viable in a remote environment.
While dentistry has lagged somewhat behind other industries in transitioning to digital processes, the pandemic forced dental providers to reimagine care delivery with a virtual approach and implement and optimize teledentistry resources.1 Though born out of challenges dentistry faced during the pandemic, teledentistry has become the way forward for the foreseeable future because patients and dentists alike embrace it. The majority of patients have adopted this change with open arms because it has transformed the ease of use for them. According to research from the National Center for Biotechnology Information, most patients who participated in virtual or telephone consultations had overall positive views for teledentistry.2
Dentistry is forever changed by this new reliance on telehealth, and the transformation is here to stay. Dental offices witnessed a dramatic increase in patients who were reluctant to visit offices for fear of virus transmission. Now, as states ease pandemic restrictions and vaccine rates increase, patients feel safer, and dental visits are on the rise again.3 People are ready for some self-care and want to put their best smile forward as they emerge from their homes.
The digital innovations that accelerated adoption during the pandemic will help dental practices manage the transition back to busy offices, and they will improve the industry as a whole. Ultimately, the greatest value of digital adoption in dentistry is that it supports positive patient experiences and improves practice revenue.
Patients receive care in less time
Teledentistry offers patients a high standard of care that meets them where they are instead of requiring them to come into the office. Whether through virtual consults or digitized paperwork, the amount of time patients spend traveling, waiting, and filling out forms is dramatically reduced. They are now accustomed to in-home digital health tools, such as mobile intake and consent forms, that make appointment preparation easy and convenient and reduce or eliminate delays in the waiting room, which results in increased patient satisfaction.
Video consults are the next generation of telehealth tools that will become a part of the new digital health lifestyle, replacing phones and face-to-face consults. In the past, patients had to take several hours off work to go into an office for a simple consultation. They had to travel to the office, fill out forms, wait for the consult, go into the consult itself, and finalize payment and insurance, which took hours of their time. With virtual video consultations, patients can quickly and efficiently receive answers. They can determine the cost of treatments, the timing of future procedures, and even whether the provider is a good fit for them, all from the comfort of their home or office.
Numerous studies have shown that patients are satisfied with virtual health consultations, particularly in dentistry. In one study, more than 97% of patients were highly satisfied with the ease and convenience of telemedicine.4 Another showed that 86% of patients would recommend teledentistry to another person.5 These high rates of patient satisfaction prove that teledentistry is here to stay.
Video consults result in high conversion predictability
Teledentistry has certainly affected the economics of dentistry. It may very well be the reason many dental practices survived during the pandemic. Digital tools enable dental practices to increase productivity and be more efficient, which in turn results in bottom line improvements. Dentists can use asynchronous or synchronous methods, or both. The provider can choose to prerecord responses to explain the patient’s problems, treatment options, and review the cost and time estimates, or have a live video conference with the patient. This allows the dentist to respond to a much higher volume of consultation inquiries, which typically leads to higher conversion rates. Thus, dentists can dedicate in-person visits to those who are ready to receive treatment.
Virtual consults free the dentist's time to deal with emergency care visits. These consults also reduce long wait times for patients who in the past had to wait for the dentist to complete the emergency care before being seen. Patients are able to talk directly with the dentist, who is most qualified to field their questions, instead of the front office or clinical staff.
Virtual consults save dental practices money in the long term because they enable dentists to interact with the patients who have already committed to treatment. These consults can increase the volume of inquiries a dental practice may receive because patients can more readily submit questions and receive answers. This helps dentists weed out patients who are not good candidates for treatment or who cannot afford the financial or time commitments. Patient needs, concerns, expectations, and procedure plans are managed long before they come into the office. Ultimately, this improves patient experience and builds a more positive relationship between dentist and patient.
Teledentistry is transforming dental care delivery for the better. Thanks to the rapid growth spurred on by pandemic-era innovations, dental practices have been forced to consider new ways to reach and treat patients. With the right tools, patients' preliminary needs and concerns can be accounted for before they ever reach the office. As a result, dentists and their teams can focus on the aspects of dentistry that made them want to take up this field in the first place: to provide patients with the care they need in a healthy, positive, and unhurried environment.
- Swaida F. Trends in the dental industry: Dental technology in the next decade. MedCityNews. April 7, 2021. Accessed July 20, 2021. https://medcitynews.com/2021/04/trends-in-the-dental-industry-dental-technology-in-the-next-decade/
- Rahman N, Nathwani S, Kandiah T. Teledentistry from a patient perspective during the coronavirus pandemic. Br J Dent. 2020;(8):1-4. Accessed July 20, 2021. doi:1038/s41415-020-1919-6
- Burger D. HPI: Consumer confidence in returning to the dental office hits new high. American Dental Association. April 29, 2021. Accessed July 22, 2021.https://www.ada.org/en/publications/ada-news/2021-archive/april/consumer-confidence-in-returning-to-the-dental-office-hits-new-high
- Parker K, Chia M. Patient and clinician satisfaction with video consultations in dentistry–part one: patient satisfaction. Nature. May 27, 2021. Accessed July 20, 2021. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41415-021-3007-y
- Patients give high marks to their teledentistry experience. CareQuest. Accessed July 20, 2021. https://www.carequest.org/education/resource-library/patients-give-high-marks-their-teledentistry