A hygienist and teledentistry expert chats with Dental Products Report about how telehealth, teledentistry, and telehygiene can all better serve patients while providing flexibility for practitioners.
Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic and its urgency and necessity of virtual care, dental hygiene has been undergoing a shift with the advent of teledentistry. Teledentistry aims to enhance oral health care, leveraging technology for a new approach. Teledentistry merges the principles of dentistry with telecommunication tools, allowing dental professionals to remotely assess, diagnose, and provide guidance on oral health concerns. This innovative method not only addresses geographical barriers but also promotes proactive dental care by enabling individuals to connect with oral health experts from the comfort of their homes. As the digital landscape continues to evolve, teledentistry emerges as a promising avenue, offering convenience, accessibility, and timely interventions to ensure optimal dental hygiene. This paradigm shift in oral health practices underscores the intersection of technology and health care, heralding a new era in which dental care becomes more personalized, efficient, and inclusive.
But what does this mean for hygienists? How can hygienists properly leverage this technology in their practice to keep up with modern patient demands. Dental Products Report® had a chat with Director of Customer Success at MouthWatch, Eden Ivie, RDH, BSDH, PHDHP, to talk about how much hygienists can work to serve their patients through teledentistry, and how they can employ telehygiene in their dental practices.
DPR: Can you talk about how telehygiene has evolved in the dental field, and what role dental hygienists play in this emerging trend?
Eden Ivie, RDH: Teledentistry has evolved and grown dramatically over the last few years from being a niche, new age technology, to being a staple in providing care. We’ve seen providers moving several types of appointments to virtual including emergency evaluations, pre-op appointments, and follow ups, saving time and money for both the practice and the patient. We’ve also seen an increase in provider-to-provider use of teledentistry.
Innovative hygiene models are using teledentistry to provide supervision and authorization making their programs sustainable and also increasing services offered. Hygienists have been the driving force behind teledentistry adoption, especially in the mobile hygiene space. Teledentistry allows hygienists to practice at the top of their scope, which improves oral health outcomes for patients.
DPR: Telehealth obviously presents different circumstances for the patient and practitioner. What specific services or procedures can dental hygienists perform through telehygiene platforms?
EI: Hygienists can use teledentistry to receive authorization and supervision from a dentist when they are working in locations such as schools and long-term care facilities. Hygienists can also provide follow-up care, coaching, and oral hygiene instruction virtually using teledentistry. This enables the hygienist to perform non-invasive caries treatments, SDF (Silver diamine fluoride), and periodontal therapy.
DPR: Are there any limitations or procedures that absolutely cannot be solved with teledentistry?
EI: Dentistry will always require in-person visits for both preventive and restorative procedures. Teledentistry helps optimize chair time for procedures that must be done in-person, while moving other appointments to virtual.
DPR: With technology being so advanced these days, teledentistry has an expanded toolkit to better serve patients. What kind of technologies are commonly used in telehygiene, and how do those technologies and products enhance the delivery of dental hygiene services?
EI: For live video teledentistry appointments, a HIPAA-compliant audio and video source to communicate with patients is needed. For store and forward, a secure way to share oral health data, such as images, notes, documents, and health histories is needed. A turnkey teledentistry platform like MouthWatch’s TeleDent provides both live video and store and forward, which makes sharing data easy and secure.
DPR: No technology works perfectly every time. How do you address potential challenges related to technology, such as connectivity issues or equipment limitations?
EI: There's a baseline of technology required to deploy teledentistry. But with a fundamental level of capabilities and access to broadband, any program at a low price can easily implement a technology solution. When there are connectivity challenges, we support offline approaches to data collection, which can be uploaded when a connection is available. Some oral health programs don’t rely on an internet connection found in a school or community setting and typically bring their own hotspot. This enables these programs to continue uninterrupted quite effectively. Also, programs have captured data, images, and patient information and then developed a treatment plan or screening report following their community outreach visit.
DPR: Are there regulatory and legal considerations for dental hygienists practicing through telehygiene platforms? If so, how can hygienists be aware of these considerations?
EI: It is important to consult your state Practice Act to ensure you are practicing within your scope, as all states in the U.S. have different regulations regarding allowable duties and supervision requirements.You have to ensure you are using a HIPAA-compliant and secure software solution to protect PHI. Teledentistry can help hygienists practice at the top of their scope but doesn’t expand their scope.
DPR: How do practitioners ensure compliance with privacy and security standards in virtual consultations?
EI: Most importantly, practitioners need to understand what's required for compliance in addition to having a platform designed with the highest level of security and access controls in order to protect patient health information. Understanding the documentation and approvals required for consent and other policies is important when delivering care through alternative modalities.
DPR: How does telehygiene facilitate collaboration between dental hygienists and dentists?
EI: Teledentistry and a telehygiene approach enable the team to work at the top of their scope of practice and deliver the most efficient and effective utilization of team resources. Remote supervision by a collaborating dentist not only frees up a hygienist to see more patients in a range of settings but also allows the dentist's expertise and diagnostic ability to authorize care across a broader range of patients.
For example, a hygienist can document the need for a minimally invasive care approach and get authorization from the dentist to treat the patient - all in a seamless appointment for the hygienist that would normally require either a dental visit or a follow-up appointment following review of clinical data to authorize services. Teledentistry empowers the hygienist to deliver a vast range of care solutions to the patient while they're in their chair.
DPR: Teledentistry seems to do a great job at bridging gaps between the hygienist and the dentist, as well as serving more patient populations. How does it address issues related to accessibility, especially for individuals in remote or underserved areas?
EI: There are numerous barriers to care that teledentistry breaks down, so that oral care can be offered to patients regardless of their location, level of anxiety, or cost associated with an in-person visit. Teledentistry enables a more productive in-office appointment, helping to avoid the need for a patient to return to the practice multiple times.
Plus, with teledentistry, the patient can stay engaged with the dentist or hygienist in-between visits from the comfort of their home, which is particularly important for homebound patients or others with limited access to in-person care.
DPR: What training and skill development opportunities are available for dental hygienists to adapt to telehygiene practices?
EI: In addition to acquiring a certain level of technical skill, hygienists using teledentistry may deliver care in a mobile or portable setting, which will bring different challenges than a traditional operatory. To help facilitate the development of a successful teledentistry program, the dental team can work with a vendor who can support them by optimizing their workflows and providing critical education and resources.
DPR: What do you see as the future trends and potential advancements in telehygiene for dental hygienists?
EI: Future trends supporting telehygiene include the advancement of minimally invasive care solutions that allow for the treatment of conditions that previously required restorative care to be arrested and addressed on site by a hygienist with the supervision of a dentist. These approaches can significantly transform access and connection to care and improve the oral health of individuals across the country.
Through virtual care networks, hygienists will have the ability to collaborate with a virtual dentist who can authorize services and support patient care. This eliminates the need for a hygienist to locate a local doctor willing to be their collaborating dentist. We are excited to see ongoing technological innovations support improved approaches for hygiene teams and a greater focus on convenience and access, which leads to a win for practitioners and patients.