During the Great Pause of 2020, orthodontic practices and dental service organizations found new ways to engage with patients on various video meeting platforms. As the world changed, patient preferences changed. We quickly discovered that pandemic-era digital solutions allowed us to create an acceptable connection between the patient and the provider. Yet, generic video conferencing platforms lacked three vital components needed for sustainable, clinical digital solutions: scalability, automation, and security. This is why video meeting platforms which had been available for years had minor success in telemedicine, but very little use in orthodontic applications, where the traditional point of view held that in-person office visits were necessary for doctors to effectively treat patients.
Remote monitoring technology was developed before the pandemic and at its core is a patient-centric innovation. However, the historical moment created a demand for innovation that spoke to our industry’s needs. Before the clear demand was present in the marketplace, technical development was too slow to attract much attention from even the most forward-thinking of doctors, and a very small percentage of orthodontists around the globe were utilizing remote monitoring technology. This made sense. The great majority of doctors were operating under the mindset of “if it’s not broken then why try to fix it?”
These doctors believed, as some doctors still believe today, that face-to-face interactions between an orthodontist and a patient create value and help justify treatment fees. While this belief was valid decades ago before the evolution of mobile or virtual communication technology, it is most definitely time we, as a profession, redefine the patient experience.
Our profession found that select orthodontic appointments can be accurately and effectively executed through asynchronous or synchronous remote connections with photographic support. The fact that this was possible is still, years later, an uncomfortable fact for some members of our profession, but it doesn’t need to be.
Before we get into how doctors can use remote monitoring to deliver orthodontic treatment while increasing convenience, value, and clinical outcomes, it is essential to label what remote monitoring is not. Some have postulated that remote monitoring will allow doctors to stop seeing the patient in the office. This is not accurate.
Remote monitoring doesn’t tell the doctor what to do, but it does need an AI component to scale. Without robust, real-time analysis, remote monitoring is simply adding a new cost and new procedures for your staff and patients to learn without taking anything away from your day-to-day tasks. Remote monitoring that needs clinicians to look through scans to decide what is happening is a waste of valuable time.
The important thing is not that a human eye has seen that a gate is open, but that a human has seen that open gate and decided what to do. Even if that is setting a protocol wherein a pre-written message is sent over an app to the patient, explaining in detail exactly how to close the gate on their own. When we learn that an archwire is passive and has been for more than two scanning intervals, we have a decision to make about scheduling and what is best for the patient’s outcome. We can bring the patient in sooner and use the patient’s time more effectively.
Your remote monitoring AI doesn’t decide what is best for a patient. It doesn’t have the expertise. AI can analyze scans, adjust scan intervals, and send notifications based on observations, but it doesn’t treat the patient. Instead, it gives orthodontists and our staff the information we need to prepare effectively for clinical intervention. It simplifies our workload so that we can do more for our patients while making treatment more cost-effective.
AI-driven remote monitoring improves orthodontists’ ability to increase production while delivering excellent service, superior results, and great value without experiencing burnout. Again, the necessary ingredients for a successful remote monitoring system are scalability, automation, and security. The key to scalability is AI-driven analysis. If remote monitoring means you spend hours analyzing scans, you might have traded patient convenience for your clinical workload, while adding additional overhead costs and stress on your staff to learn a new system.
For remote monitoring to be beneficial for practices and patients, there must be AI image analysis and automated notifications. Human analysis of a large number of intraoral images will lead to decision fatigue and eventual burnout. You don’t want to spend your valuable mental resources trying to decide what you are seeing when a computer can do the same thing quickly, effectively, and affordably.
Remote monitoring promotes proactive, data-driven orthodontics that benefit the patient, but ultimately, you will keep doing it because you will feel less burned out while finding ways to increase your productivity.