Technology is making its way into every aspect of our lives and our health is no exception. From fitness monitors to food tracking apps on our phone, health-related technology is making its way to consumers. We have seen the introduction and evolution of EHRs, practice management tools and other software in the dental industry as well.
Telehealth appears to be the next step for delivering healthcare services to patients who are unable to visit the physician’s office for any reason. The world doesn’t refer to any particular service or tool. Rather it is a term that is applied to a collection of several different technologies to further the goal of remote healthcare.
Telehealth or telemedicine is not meant to replace dentists or any other medical professional. Industry experts view it as an addition or supplement to regular office visits or to deliver services under certain specific circumstances. Telemedicine services can be categorized into four main groups:
This involves real-time video transmissions between the dentist and patient. There is two-way communication and more participants can be invited depending on the case requirements (caregivers, nurses etc.) Live video can be useful in many situations such as if the patient cannot move, there is no time to travel to the clinic or if the patient lives too far from the dentist.
Asynchronous Data Transmission
Dentists can use secure communication channels to transmit medical files or health-related information of a patient to specialists for consultation. In some cases this is used as a supplement to a physical visit and in others as a substitute. This can save valuable time for deciding treatment options, diagnosing ailments etc.
This type of service is mainly used once a patient has been released from the hospital or clinic. The dentist can monitor patient recovery or progress after intensive procedures. Such types of remote monitoring services can reduce relapse or readmission rates and encourage patients to continue healthy habits.
Mobile health is straightforward. Dentists can use mobile services such as text messaging to stay in touch with patients outside of regular visits. You can send reminders, daily tips or other messages that encourage healthy older practices.
How Can Telemedicine Help the Dental Industry?
At first glance, it appears that telehealth cannot really benefit dentistry. For instance, remote monitoring tools focus on fitness wearables and similar devices. The data from these devices are beneficial for monitoring general health or to manage chronic illnesses. They would appear to have little to no use for dental care.
However as medical technology and health IT evolves, we can expect to see more diversified options. Even today, the ability to transmit data to specialists offers many potential benefits for dental practices. Sometimes cases don’t require a physical visit to the specialist and you can consult with them remotely for a diagnosis. Considering the wait times for appointments, this can save a lot of time for patients and doctors alike.
Live video requires robust infrastructure and supporting tools to implement correctly. Nevertheless the benefits are immense. As a dentist, you will have several types of patients. Not all of them can come into the office whenever there’s a problem. Telehealth is very useful for those who cannot come into the clinic for any reason – old age, limited mobility, chronic illnesses, mental health issues etc.
No amount of technology can completely replace a face-to-face visit effectively. But that doesn’t mean we cannot use technology to reduce wait times and costs where possible. Telehealth can also close the gaps in healthcare access due to distance or lack of funds. We are only beginning to explore telemedicine. Who knows what the future will bring?