Telehealth: Medical vs. Dental

There are significant differences between medical treatment and dental treatment in the United States. Medicine in this country is largely practiced for management of chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

Chronic medical conditions may be managed effectively through telehealth, whereas medical trauma or medical emergencies must be handled in person.

The heart of dentistry is caring for patients who have suffered dental trauma or are experiencing a dental emergency. Therefore, the bulk of dental care must be provided in person.

Telehealth in Medicine

With the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth in medicine became the primary way patients and doctors interacted.  With digital cameras and microphones on both sides of the visit, doctors could visually examine their patients and listen to their  patients’ descriptions of their illnesses and symptoms.

Patients received medical advice, prescription refills, and new prescriptions without having to leave their homes. Telehealth saved them time and money.

However, telehealth in medicine is limited in how much in-depth care it can provide. Medical professionals cannot physically touch their patients to discover physical changes or anomalies. They cannot listen to their patients’ hearts or take blood pressure readings.

Most importantly, medical professionals could not get additional measurements of their patients’ health. These include bloodwork, urine samples, and even fecal samples. These are an important part of the diagnostic and management part of medicine.

Telehealth in Dentistry

While non-clinical aspects of dentistry (making appointments and billing) can easily be done with telehealth appointments, most of the care that dentists provide requires in-person visits. Dentists cannot do a thorough dental exam using telehealth.

Telehealth in dentistry does not allow dentists to:

  • Clean teeth
  • Do thorough examinations to check for tooth decay, gum disease, or cancer
  • Fill cavities
  • Fix broken or cracked teeth
  • Treat dental abscesses

Therefore, and perhaps, even more so than medical professionals, telehealth in dentistry is not the primary way for dentists to provide oral health care.

Patients Must be Tech Savvy

If medical or dental patients are younger, they are probably tech savvy. However, many elderly patients may not be. If they have a cell phone, it’s likely to be a flip phone with only limited text and call capabilities, and they may not own a computer or a tablet.

Therefore, telehealth visits may be impossible for one of the most vulnerable populations and also the most likely to need on-going medical and dental care.

Patients Must Have Internet and Digital Devices

One of the insights gained during COVID-19 is that significant disparities exist in the United States with internet access and digital device access. This became obvious when schools began remote learning.

There were a lot of children who could not participate because they did not have internet access (it was not available where they lived, or their parents could not afford it) or digital devices capable of supporting remote education.

These disparities affect telehealth access as well. This means there will be patients who cannot get medical or dental services via telehealth.

Technology Must be User Friendly

The technology that delivers telehealth cannot be complicated or confusing to people. Many of the current digital meeting tools were written by programmers for programmers, engineers, and other technology professionals.

While some medical and dental patients are programmers and engineers, most are not. Therefore, if the telehealth technology requires complicated steps to access, many patients may not be able to master them.

Orthosnap Can Help You Get More In-Person Visits

Dental practices focus on providing in-person care to their patients. We recognize there are uses for telehealth in dental practices, but we also know most of your patients need to visit your office for proper oral health care, including orthodontic malocclusion treatment. Our solution gives better and faster results than DIY products and other commercial products. We partner with dental practices to help them grow. Contact us today at (516) 506-7606 or to find out how your practice – and your revenue – can expand.