Studies Find Teledentistry Increases Patient Access to Dental Services

Posted on February 1, 2017

ALBANY, N.Y. (February 1, 2017) -- Teledentistry is emerging as a practical solution for patients living in rural areas, according to a new report by researchers at the University at Albany.

The Oral Health Workforce Research Center (OHWRC) at the Center for Health Workforce Studies (CHWS) recently published “Case Studies of 6 Teledentistry Programs: Strategies to Increase Access to General and Specialty Dental Services,” summarizing findings from a study of oral health providers on their use of teledentisty services.

As a means to improve access to oral health services in areas with inadequate availability of general and specialty dental care, teledentistry can provide critical services in which gaps currently exist, especially for treatment planning and specialty consultations.

Concerns about limited access to oral health services for underserved populations are prompting providers to adopt innovative service delivery strategies to meet the needs of those with access barriers. This is especially true in rural areas, where there are limited oral health providers, higher percentages of elderly people, high rates of poverty, and low rates of dental insurance.

"Efforts to expand access to dental services, particularly in underserved communities, is increasing interest in the use of teledentisty," said Margaret Langelier, OHWRC Deputy Director who led this study. "It is important to better understand the teledentistry applications that providers are using, their impacts, and the barriers and facilitators of their use."

Teledentistry utilizes information technology and telecommunications such as video conferencing for dental care, consultation, and education. Case study participants identified the benefits of teledentistry, including allowing them to conduct oral health assessments, determine treatment needs, educate patients about treatment options, and offer appropriate referrals.

Other important findings include:

-Patients experience shorter wait times to obtain consultations and services, and providers find teledentistry to be efficient, timely, and cost effective

-Teledentistry enables efficient use of scarce dental resources in underserved communities and allowed providers to triage patients to the most appropriate level of care

-Maintaining teledentistry services requires the ongoing participation of a broad range of clinicians and support staff in sponsoring organizations

-Regulatory and reimbursement barriers to teledentistry include scope of practice requirements for dental hygienists, inadequate funding for the required technology equipment and installation, and inadequate reimbursement for services provided

The full report can be found on the CHWS website.

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