When I began my dental practice in Southern California I never anticipated helping a patient in Dallas, but that is what I found myself doing through the byte platform a few weeks into the COVID-19 crisis. byte is a teledentistry company that I began with some forward thinking individuals well before this pandemic disrupted all of our lives. At the time, our goal was to make invisible aligners more accessible and more affordable than traditional orthodontics, but it wasn't until the novel coronavirus forced us all into our homes that I truly internalized how incredibly valuable teledentistry can be for consultation, triage, and referral.
When non-essential healthcare began to shut down across the country, the byte team made the decision to open up our network of dentists to anyone in need, free of charge. That is how I wound up with a message from a Dallas woman who had convinced herself she had mouth cancer. This woman was stuck at home, frightened and in pain, and completely unable to reach her own dentist. I coached her through taking pictures of her mouth, used video, and asked her a series of screening questions. It did not take long for me to conclude that she was dealing with a root canal issue, and that the abscess in her mouth did not mean cancer. She was relieved, but she also needed to get to a root canal specialist right away. I reached out to a Dallas dentist within the byte network for a referral, and just like that this frightened woman was able to get the care she required without having to risk the unnecessary exposure of an initial evaluation.
Crisis has a way of breaking down barriers, and where some industry experts were once reticent to try teledentistry, they have made a quick and aggressive pivot towards remote care. The American Dental Association has even published official guidance encouraging dentists to use telecommunication technology to support dental care where possible. A recent survey found that 78% of patients are likely to engage with teledentistry services by 2025. I have personally responded to hundreds of patients through the byte platform during COVID-19, which isn't surprising considering that telehealth encounters have risen by 2,000% in some places. That remote consultation for the root canal patient saved us both time and money. It was much quicker than having her actually come into the office for an examination, she wasn't charged a consultation fee, and I did not have to sacrifice valuable chair time only to conclude that I was not equipped to solve her problem. I may have begun taking remote consultations due to the pandemic, but they have been so effective that I plan on working them into my regular practice even after the pandemic is over. The byte team agrees. We have actually made the decision to continue free remote consultations in perpetuity.
I, like so many others, am anxious to get back to "normal life", but now that the value of teledentistry services has been demonstrated in the real world, I think that "normal" is going to look a little different. I believe that remote triage, consultations, and referrals will stick around even after the lockdown orders are lifted. These types of consultations only take five to ten minutes, and they go a long way in providing assurances for anxious patients. Improved efficiency in dental care is valuable no matter what is happening in the outside world, and it is something that I think my colleagues will embrace wholeheartedly even after we get our patients back in the chair.