Broker blog from Delta Dental

Tag: covid-19

How has COVID-19 affected the dental industry?

The new coro­n­avirus (COVID-19) pan­dem­ic has sig­nif­i­cant­ly altered how the den­tal indus­try oper­ates. Here are three ways the pan­dem­ic has changed the den­tal insur­ance land­scape.

Timid patients

There’s an almost dai­ly debate of what con­sti­tutes a good rea­son for leav­ing your house right now. Indi­vid­ual states are at dif­fer­ent stages of re-open­ing or shut­ting back down. With so much uncer­tain­ty, it makes sense that 42% of patients respon­dents may skip or post­pone care out of fear or dis­com­fort, par­tic­u­lar­ly for non-emer­gency pro­ce­dures.

This on top of the 61% of peo­ple who already suf­fer den­tal fears means that show­ing patients the exten­sive infec­tion con­trol mea­sures in place may be an impor­tant aspect of get­ting them back in the chair.

A boom in teledentistry

Tele­den­tistry is a way for den­tists to pro­vide a vir­tu­al con­sul­ta­tion through a phone call, text, or video chat. Den­tists can use tele­den­tistry to address prob­lems that don’t need an office vis­it, which allows them to save time and mon­ey on infec­tion con­trol mea­sures like per­son­al pro­tec­tive equip­ment and san­i­tiz­ing office spaces. This gives prac­tices an ide­al way to assess and triage patients with­out a risk of expo­sure, while also poten­tial­ly allow­ing a den­tist to see more patients in a day.

Even before the pan­dem­ic, tele­den­tistry was show­ing itself as an inter­est­ing and promis­ing addi­tion to tra­di­tion­al den­tal care. It allows den­tists to see patients who are at-risk, live in rur­al areas, or those who just desire the con­ve­nience as well as poten­tial­ly decreas­ing costs of den­tal care over­all.

The key ingre­di­ent to the suc­cess of tele­den­tistry is wide­spread patient accep­tance. One pos­si­ble issue, accord­ing to a review of survey’s about tele­den­tistry, is that patients may feel like the qual­i­ty of care received remote­ly is not as high as care received in per­son. How­ev­er, users in one study were gen­er­al­ly sat­is­fied with the expe­ri­ence and respon­dents in anoth­er sur­vey indi­cat­ed that they would use tele­den­tistry if it was avail­able.

Americans losing health insurance

The biggest shift has been in the num­ber of peo­ple with access to health insur­ance. With mil­lions of jobs lost, many indi­vid­u­als and their fam­i­lies have lost both their cov­er­age from their employ­ers as well as a steady income. Accord­ing to researchers from the Urban Insti­tute, some indi­vid­u­als will be able to become insured under a fam­i­ly member’s pol­i­cy, through the Afford­able Care Act mar­ket­place, Med­ic­aid or by choos­ing indi­vid­ual cov­er­age through a bro­ker. Still, that leaves almost 3.5 mil­lion peo­ple who may become unin­sured. With the end of fed­er­al pro­grams to sup­port those who have lost their jobs, one big ques­tion for the den­tal indus­try is whether or not peo­ple will make the choice to go to the den­tist.

Dentists seen as an economic indicator

The den­tal indus­try may be a good indi­ca­tor of whether Amer­i­cans have ful­ly recov­ered from the pan­dem­ic, accord­ing to a June New York Times arti­cle. This is because den­tists offer a unique ser­vice that has no clear alter­na­tive.

Since the coro­n­avirus (COVID-19) pan­dem­ic hit the U.S. in ear­ly March, the nation­al econ­o­my has seen a down­turn and a sub­se­quent uptick. The den­tal indus­try expe­ri­enced an ampli­fied ver­sion of these nation­al employ­ment trends, with half of all den­tal work­ers los­ing their jobs in March and April, and 94% of den­tist offices rehir­ing their full staff by mid-August.

Getting dentists back into the office

Stim­u­lus pro­grams may be a key fac­tor in help­ing den­tists to weath­er this storm. Prac­tices that took part in the fed­er­al Pay­check Pro­tec­tion Pro­gram were more like­ly to remain open than those that didn’t.

Even after job gains since June, the den­tal indus­try still has 289,000 few­er work­ers than it did before the pan­dem­ic. That sug­gests to Bet­sey Steven­son, a Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan eco­nom­ics pro­fes­sor quot­ed in the Times arti­cle, that the indus­try — and the rest of the Amer­i­can econ­o­my — is far from recov­ered.

What does the future look like?

Though den­tist offices have been open for sev­er­al months, it’s unclear whether their patient bases will return. In mid-June, most states gave den­tist offices the go-ahead to reopen ful­ly, but in August patient vol­umes were still low­er than what they were before the pan­dem­ic. The rate at which patients were return­ing has even tapered off as of mid-August and some econ­o­mists don’t pre­dict patient vol­umes to return ful­ly before the end of 2020.

This hes­i­ta­tion is a sign of mul­ti­ple prob­lems fac­ing patients dur­ing the pan­dem­ic. Some patients may feel cau­tious about remov­ing their masks for a close-up pro­ce­dure. Oth­ers may think that since they haven’t noticed any den­tal issues since the pan­dem­ic start­ed, they can go a lit­tle longer with­out get­ting a den­tal clean­ing. Some peo­ple can sim­ply no longer afford den­tal pro­ce­dures after los­ing their jobs and their insur­ance ben­e­fits through their employ­ers. Econ­o­mists who spoke to the Times pre­dict that employ­ment rates for den­tists will even­tu­al­ly return to where they were before the virus hit, even though it may be slow going.

Teledentistry: what it is, and what it means for your clients

Busi­ness­es, schools and pub­lic space have been reopen­ing for months now, and that includes den­tal offices. As part of the reopen­ing efforts, more den­tists and their patients have turned to tele­den­tistry, an emerg­ing trend that has the pow­er to reshape the indus­try as we know it. Here are some com­mon ques­tions about tele­den­tistry, as well as our thoughts about the impact tele­den­tistry will have on the indus­try and how Delta Den­tal is address­ing it.

What is teledentistry?

Tele­den­tistry is when a den­tist con­ducts a vir­tu­al con­sul­ta­tion via phone, text or video to diag­nose issues, offer care advice and deter­mine if an in-per­son vis­it is nec­es­sary.

Tele­den­tistry appoint­ments can be syn­chro­nous, such as a video call where the den­tist and patient are inter­act­ing with each oth­er, or asyn­chro­nous, such as when the patient sends a descrip­tion of his or her sit­u­a­tion and a pho­to and waits for a reply.

Are teledentistry appointments covered by insurance?

Yes. Delta Den­tal cov­ers tele­den­tistry ser­vices as prob­lem-focused exams. That means they fall into the cat­e­go­ry of diag­nos­tic care, and are sub­ject to the same rules and lim­i­ta­tions (for exam­ple, D&P is usu­al­ly cov­ered at no cost to the patient, but only a cer­tain num­ber of such appoint­ments are cov­ered each year).

What kind of equipment is needed for teledentistry appointments?

The equip­ment and soft­ware need­ed may vary based on den­tists’ pref­er­ences and capa­bil­i­ties. Tele­den­tistry may require noth­ing more than a phone or may require a smart device, com­put­er or spe­cial­ized app.

If dental offices are reopening, why is teledentistry relevant?

Den­tist offices may open, but that doesn’t mean that patients won’t ben­e­fit from tele­den­tistry solu­tions. Just as work­ing from home has shown the val­ue of video meet­ings and con­nect­ing with cowork­ers with­out being in per­son, patients may find tele­den­tistry a use­ful option when seek­ing den­tal care.

Addi­tion­al­ly, not all patients are will­ing to return to the den­tists. Sur­veys this past August by the Amer­i­can Den­tal Asso­ci­a­tion (ADA) have found that 15% of peo­ple are wait­ing for a med­ical break­through such as a vac­cine before they’ll go back to the den­tist. Whether your clients are eager or hes­i­tant to return the den­tist, tele­den­tistry is the per­fect tool for stay­ing in touch, get­ting care and get­ting advice with­out going into the dentist’s office.

What is Delta Dental doing with regards to teledentistry?

Delta Den­tal cov­ers tele­den­tistry appoint­ments at the same ben­e­fit lev­els as diag­nos­tic ser­vices to ensure that enrollees have cov­er­age for their den­tal needs while stay­ing safe from COVID-19. We’re encour­ag­ing den­tists to use tele­den­tistry for emer­gency diag­noses and non-emer­gency con­sul­ta­tions. Delta Den­tal den­tists are also eli­gi­ble for dis­counts on tele­den­tistry ser­vices. What’s more, Delta Den­tal is look­ing into part­ner­ships with tele­den­tistry com­pa­nies to improve the expe­ri­ence for both den­tists and their patients.

How will teledentistry change the industry?

COVID-19 has been dis­rup­tive to the entire econ­o­my, and the den­tal indus­try is no excep­tion. That dis­rup­tion is more than just eco­nom­ic, how­ev­er. Expec­ta­tions about what it means to go to the den­tist are also chang­ing. Den­tal patients may expect tele­den­tistry to be includ­ed as a stan­dard part of any insur­ance plan (for exam­ple, Kaiser Per­ma­nente is launch­ing plans with a heavy focus on tele­health) and they may shy away from plans and den­tists that can’t accom­mo­date it. Patients who live in remote areas may also find expand­ed access to pro­fes­sion­al care because of tele­den­tistry.

For den­tists, tele­den­tistry is more than just anoth­er option or add-on when it comes to pro­vid­ing care and in-per­son treat­ments. It may become a new source of income in the form of see­ing more patients vir­tu­al­ly.

For bro­kers, stay­ing on top of the lat­est devel­op­ments, indus­try best prac­tices and cus­tomer expec­ta­tions about tele­den­tistry will become ever more impor­tant.

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