Two Birds, One Stone: How Teledentistry Improves Patient Recruitment AND Patient Retention for Dental Groups

The Problem with Scheduling

 Patient scheduling in the post-pandemic world has become even more important for group practices and DSOs. Recent data from the ADA Health Policy Institute (HPI), shows that despite a return to in-office treatment, there is room for improvement in scheduling. For example, according to a February 2022 report from the ADA, member dental practices reported an average of being 83% full.

DSOs and groups are most likely operating approximately 20% below capacity as well.

Post-COVID-19, patient cancellations accounted for most of the lost productivity, with more than 4 out of 5 appointments crossed off the schedule! Therefore, ensuring optimal scheduling is critical for the productivity and profitability of DSOs and group practices.

Finding effective ways to keep schedules full for every office in a multi-location organization can be a challenge. However, there is a readily available solution—virtual appointments enabled by teledentistry.

Teledentistry’s Post Pandemic Momentum

In the early days of the pandemic in 2020, teledentistry use soared because of office closures, staff shortages and fear of contagion of COVID-19 from going into any dental office.

During this time, teledentistry became an important way to provide care for emergency patients, evaluate patients in pain, monitor post-treatment care and provide needed prescriptions.

Today, we understand that teledentistry can be used for a variety of applications, called use cases. The use cases for teledentistry are expanding exponentially, especially those that highlight how this technology may be the key to recruiting AND retaining patients.

Using teledentistry to both recruit AND retain a patient saves money and time, both of which are constrained resources in multi-location practices (and for patients) today.

Since 2020, our profession has learned a lot more about combining the scheduling of teledentistry appointments along with in-patient dental visits.

Growing Patient Acceptance of Teledentistry

With telehealth in general, integrating virtual patient encounters with in-office workflow while using evidenced-based patient workflow analysis has become the silver lining of the new normal – driven by patient acceptance of the technology.

Recent customer satisfaction surveys have proven that more and more patients are not only comfortable with telehealth appointments, but also that an increasing number of patients now expect it.

It’s not a stretch to assume that dental patients feel the same way – after all they are the same consumer base simply seeking oral healthcare rather than medical services.

Teledentistry is rapidly becoming part of a patient’s dental provider selection check list – right up there with office proximity and insurance acceptance.

Therefore, your organization may be spending a great deal of money on website development and SEO, but if your prospective patients don’t find what they’re looking for – the convenience of virtual consultations and an easy-to-use patient portal – your SEO efforts may be leading them to a dead end, and onto the next Google search.

In a post-covid world, teledentistry has evolved from a triage tool to a potential patient recruitment and retention engine. Let’s explore this further:

Recruiting New Patients

Attracting patients when they are shopping for a new dentist can be more efficient for DSOs and groups that have implemented a secure, scalable and feature rich teledentistry platform such as TeleDent by MouthWatch, Here’s how:

  • Provides patients with immediate access to a practice with intake, including chief complaint, an assessment of immediate and long-term needs
  • Ensures that gaps in in-office schedules can be augmented with virtual teledentistry visits
  • Links teledentistry into call centers for immediate patient assessments and scheduling.
  • Verifies medical, family, and dental history and dental insurance coverage
  • Explains office policies and obtaining informed consent for procedures
  • Treats and monitors patients with chronic illnesses with ongoing care in a cost-effective way
  • Assesses needs for new and re-fill prescriptions for patients to local pharmacies
  • Prevents staff shortages from delaying new patient intake and scheduling

Retaining Existing Patients

Patient Retention is even more important today. According to the National Association of Dental Plans that’s because about 20% of patients switch dentists due to changes in coverage, personal issues, a move, or inconvenience.

The average cost of acquiring a new patient about $200.00, with the average new patient staying with a practice for five to seven years. Historically, the average spending per patient over the next 5 to 7 years can be estimated to be between $8,000 to $10,000. More information can be found about calculating lifetime patient value (LPV) here.

Simply stated, retaining patients in today’s world is related to optimizing in-office schedules with teledentistry visits. Teledentistry can help retain patients in the following ways:

  • Provide patients with customized treatment plans
  • Increase patient acceptance for needed care with scheduled time for face-to-face contact without PPE and with time to explain needed procedures
  • Coordinate care with multiple providers to ensure patient retention after specialty care
  • Deliver customized oral health instructions and explanations of planned treatment
  • Improve convenience for patients by reducing travel to the office
  • Boost in-office dental unit productivity with more precise scheduling
  • Reduce scheduling delays caused by clean-up of dental units in between appointments
  • Monitor the results of hygiene and scaling and root planing procedures
  • Provide referrals to and from medical providers for complex medical patients, such as cardiac and joint replacement therapies
  • Prevent staff shortages from becoming a customer service issue

What’s on the Horizon?

In the future, teledentistry will be used for improving oral health and overall health with integrated medical-dental and dental-dental data exchanges. Right now, teledentistry can utilize the ADA1084 Standard for Dental Core Reference Data as a foundation for data exchange to facilitate sharing of key patient data, securely with HIPAA compliance.

Teledentistry can also be used to enhance patient satisfaction. One measure of patient satisfaction for a practice is for a patient being able to easily use teledentistry with mobile phones, iPads, as well as desktop computers.

With a professional grade teledentistry solution such as TeleDent by MouthWatch, formats like video files, pictures from device cameras, text messages, patient-generated information, digital images and .STL files from scanners can easily be uploaded for patient review through an intuitive portal.

We know that the ability to stay connected to the dental group’s multiple locations virtually improves patient compliance with treatment planning, home care and overall satisfaction.

It really is two birds with one stone: teledentistry improves recruitment and retention of patients during the post-COVID recalibration of dental care delivery.

About the Author:
A dental futurist, Dr. Margaret Scarlett is a practicing dentist, author, and consultant for today’s digital dentistry innovators.  After a long career with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Scarlett is now assisting today’s DSOs and private practices embrace the digital transformation of dentistry, while helping innovative dental technology companies introduce their transformative solutions to DSOs and private practices. She can be reached at 404.808.9980 or [email protected].


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