Amongst dentists, the hot topic today is: How will the COVID-19 pandemic affect Dentistry? There is a lot of interest in tele-dentistry right now and the following is about a concept that I've been thinking about lately. I'm not suggesting this is good or bad, but it introduces the possibility of a new specialty: The Tele-Dental Diagnostician.
With rising unemployment and cost-consciousness, more patients will go online looking for a low-cost dentist. But as the number of dentists making special offers based on price expands, patients will have trouble knowing whom they should choose.
It's impractical to just visit each dentist and try them out. If I were a patient, I'd love to have an expert give me independent unbiased guidance.
There might be a need for an Independent Dental Advisor (IDA): an online service that currently doesn't exist as far as I'm aware. They could be registered and regulated in a similar way to investment advisors or financial planners. They would be independent; paid by the consumer and cannot accept any other fees or kickbacks. Typically, they could be an experienced, non-practising clinician without any financial links to any practices. Basically, an unbiased, independent specialist diagnostician.
Here's how it could work. The patient contacts the IDA online and is referred to a Diagnostic Centre to have radiological records taken, say a CBCT and possibly an impression scan and diagnostic photos. This Diagnostic Centre could be an established radiological centre.
After examining the electronic records, treatment options including approximate costs are discussed with the patient on a teleconference call with the IDA.
The IDA needs a database of providers in order to make referrals to clinicians. Clinicians would have to provide regulated standard information in order to receive referrals from the IDA. The database would need to be constantly updated and the providers would need to update the information in order to stay on the database. The information needed would be things like: the type of treatments they provide; their clinical credentials; equipment and materials used; some details of cases completed; fees charged; and unbiased patient reviews. Reviews would need to come directly from patients and of course, all the privacy issues would need to be handled. Giving reviews would need to have a condition that patients would agree to in order for them to benefit from this service.
Dentists who would want to receive referrals would need to make their information available to the IDAs.
The Challenges: Creating a nationwide database with appropriate privacy controls would entail significant funding. Also, explaining the role to the public.
The possible entities who might have a role is this idea could be insurance providers. This would give them additional power and control over the dental market. It could be marketed as a unique benefit to their subscribers and would improve the efficiencies of their participating practices.
As mentioned, the IDA would still need to be independent and not influenced by any commercial group.
Other players could be the dental corporates because they already have the database of their practices to refer to. There is an advantage in being first.
The government could also take the lead. They have an incentive of being able to help lower the costs of dentistry to their constituents and compared to any subsidy model, this would be a relatively low-cost initiative. The various Dental Associations could play a role, but chances are, their members would not support this idea because it would be seen as a threat to the dentist's incomes.
While most dentists would be opposed to this idea, there could be some advantages. The biggest advantage is they could reduce their marketing costs because the IDA could be a great referral source for patients. Once a patient is introduced to a practice, that patient is likely to remain a patient. It gives an advantage to all the existing established practices. It would be tough for new practices to get referrals because they wouldn't have a track record to deliver to the IDA database.
Yes, fees would be driven down, but we already have strong price competition in the existing situation. Practices would grow organically if they provided better treatment and service. The current trends aren't particularly rosy as competition increases and the rising advertising costs bite into profits.
Chances are, none of this will eventuate. 50 years after man went to the moon, most people assumed we'd have colonies there by now, so anyone who predicts the future is probably wrong.
Regardless of whatever new models emerge, there are some fundamental strategies that will certainly be helpful, come what may. Improving clinical skills; training your team to take over tasks and give clinicians more leverage; strengthening patient relationships and improving communications skills are areas that all practices can and should strive to improve.
About the author
Dr Michael Sernik is CEO of Channel D. www.channelD.com make dental waiting room videos designed to start relevant conversations, because all cases started with a conversation! Trial Channel D for 2 months without any payment, then a monthly subscription applies. No long-term commitment. Quit anytime.Use Code MA56 to receive a Channel D Media Stick for no charge. See www.channeld.com. He is also producing an online communications programme - Sernik Speak. Register your interest at www.sernikspeak.com.