Q & A with Dr. Vilas Sastry, CEO, Teledentistry.com
Telemedicine has a long history—possibly longer than you might know. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), an 1879 article in the Lancet talked about using the telephone to reduce unnecessary office visits. Since the 1920s, the radio has been used to give medical advice to clinics on ships. Today, telemedicine has become a common option for patient diagnosis and treatment with COVID-19 significantly driving usage since the beginning of the pandemic. Telemedicine for dentistry, commonly referred to asTeledentistry, is also not a new concept but adoption has lagged behind telemedicine. However, since COVID-19, many dental practices have embraced it to deliver no-touch care to their patients where possible.
We chatted with Dr. Vilas Sastry, CEO of Teledentistry.com, and a Curve Dental integrated partner, to gain his perspective on how teledentistry is reshaping the dental industry
Q: How do you define teledentistry?
A: I see it as the amalgamation of dentistry, technology, and patients. It is so much more than a video conference. We’ve literally developed a solution that puts a portion of a practice into the cloud and into the palm of the dentist and the patient. While telemedicine was introduced a long time ago, it just wasn’t commonly used. Today, telemedicine is an option made available by many practices for patient treatment. I suspect teledentistry will also become popular in the very near future.
Q: What does Teledentistry.com offer?
A: One of the most valuable services is enabling the dentist or associate to quickly meet with the patient via teleconference and triage the situation, or leverage our outstanding group of on-demand dentists to jump in and serve the patient in a timely manner. All the front desk has to do is direct the patient call to the on-demand dentist. We have vetted all of our virtual dentists and use The National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) to confirm the credentials of each dentist in our network. This way the practice has the utmost confidence that the dentist will provide an excellent patient experience and address their issue in a timely fashion.
This transforms the front desk into a revenue generator because these virtual consults, unlike a phone call, are billable. It is a very efficient way to triage a situation, so the patient can have their issue addressed right away versus having to wait for a return call. It is a paradigm shift in the way we look at our practices.
We also offer value-added benefits to insurance carriers. By monitoring patients virtually as needed, we help create better outcomes which carriers obviously embrace.
Q: What are the core benefits to dental practices and patients?
A: There are many benefits for practices. Teledentistry is great for initial triage as well as post-op consults. In my practice, a significant number of scheduled routine post-op visits are no-shows. I would have blocked off the time on my schedule, booked staff and then if the patient no shows, I’m left hanging. Instead, now we can do post-ops via teledentistry. Just as important, we can deliver the highest level of care possible and it’s very convenient. Certain specialties have realized the benefits. For example, Orthodontists have become adept at using Teledentistry.com because they can just as easily check on the progress of a patient via video as they can in-person. Plus, it is convenient for the patient and family because they’re able to overcome in-office visit obstacles like busy schedules, traffic, and other impediments to regular checks.
Pediatric dentists are other specialists using our solution to benefit their practices because it helps reassure parents and children about their dental condition from the familiar environment of their homes. Younger parents are extremely comfortable with videoconferencing and it becomes second nature to connect with their child’s dentist in this mode.
Another benefit to dentists is that they can elevate their responsiveness without losing valuable marketing dollars. Let’s say a dental emergency patient clicks on your ad but you aren’t available to address the patient. In this day and age, patients are apt to simply click to the next office’s ad and so on until they get to someone who can help them. You risk losing valuable revenue in the long run. By having a virtual dentist “on-call,” you can gain new patients and strengthen your relationship with the current patients, building a level of loyalty difficult to break.
Q: How does an integration with Curve benefit dental practices?
A: An integration with Curve means that you can book a patient very quickly and create a profile within the software. Everything is seamless, which is critical for continuity of care.
We have a symbiotic relationship with Curve. Teledentistry.com is a treatment platform while Curve Hero is a dental practice management platform. Curve helps run the functions of the dental practice while Teledentistry.com helps expand a dentist’s capability into the virtual realm. The challenge with traditional dental practices is if you or, say a hygienist, is not working in someone’s mouth, you are not earning revenue. Teledentistry.com allows you to bill for services performed beyond the four walls of your practice.
Q: How has Teledentistry.com benefitted practices during COVID-19?
A: At first, many dentists were overwhelmed by COVID-19 and understandably so. From new advice and regulations on PPE, FFCRA, FMLA and so on, there was so much to address. We introduced the Teledentistry.com platform in January of 2020 and deployed it into several solo practices as well as DSOs. These practices had this tool well established prior to the pandemic and were better prepared for the tsunami that hit us. While revenues were down during the shutdown, they were not zero. Then once the closures were lifted, the practices bounced back and then also had the virtual dentistry revenues coming in to compensate for losses suffered during the shutdown.
Q: How is Teledentistry reshaping the dental industry
A: The COVID-19 pandemic unexpectedly hit the dental profession very hard. No one could have anticipated that literally every single dental practice in the country would have to shut down. This event forced dentists to think beyond the status quo and consider what the future could look like. The way a dental office practices now is fundamentally different from what it was just a few months ago.
Teledentistry.com is a part of the sea change that is coming. Multiple aspects of the entire dental ecosystem will shift in the coming months. Insurance companies are moving to an outcomes-based payer system which is difficult to achieve in dentistry. If you can monitor patients virtually and conveniently—that boosts outcomes. It’s a win/win/win for insurance carriers, dental professionals, and patients. Dental disease as such is a chronic condition and teledentistry easily lends itself to chronic care. That’s where the industry is heading.
Dental practices will need to respond and react to payer demands because payers will continue to dictate things. Teledentistry.com is helping to shape the future of dentistry where improved patient outcomes are at the core of how an insurance company reimburses its network of providers. Practice management software will play a big role which makes Teledentistry.com’s integration with Curve a major step forward.