Disruption in Dentistry: Creating Flexibility with Teledentistry and Mobile Dental Care
- Aug 5, 2021
- Erick Cutler
Melissa Turner, Chief Hygiene Officer at Cellerant Consulting and co-founder of the American Mobile Dentistry Alliance and the National Mobile Dentistry Conference, breaks down teledentistry and mobile dental care and explains how they work individually and in tandem to create more flexibility and reach more patients in this discussion with EisnerAmper’s Erick Cutler. She provides actionable steps on how to start small to build out a teledentistry or mobile dental care offering in your practice.
Erick Cutler: Hi. On this episode of Dental Dialogues, we're continuing our disruption in dentistry series, and we'll be talking about teledentistry and mobile dental care, both of which have increased in popularity, in part thanks to how they allow dentists to provide more convenient and on-demand like options to their patients. But what do teledentistry and mobile dental care operations actually mean for your practice? How easy are they to implement and how quickly could you get started? So, to help us dive into these topics, we're speaking with Melissa Turner, a valued thought leader and influencer within the dental industry.
Her expertise includes mobile dental care, teledentistry, workplace wellness, and increasing the role and responsibility of the dental hygienist as part of the primary care team. She's the Chief Hygiene Officer at Cellerant Consulting. She's a Co-founder of the National Mobile and Teledentistry Conference and the American Mobile and Teledentistry Conference. So, Melissa, welcome, and thank you so much for joining us.
Melissa Turner: Erick, thank you so much for having me, and thanks to everyone out there who's listening.
EC: So, you know what? Let's just get started with the topic of teledentistry. So, at a high level, what exactly is teledentistry and what exactly does it look like in practice?
MT: That's right. So, Erick, sometimes when we think about teledentistry, the first thing that comes to mind for many people, whether it's a dentist or whether it's a patient, they say, "Well, how can you do dentistry over virtual care? How can you do dentistry over FaceTime or video chat?" And I have to laugh because I mean, that's true, how can we? We can't. There's going to be always some part of dentistry that cannot be done, just like healthcare that can not be done over virtual care. So, at a high level, the easiest thing to do is to keep it simple when thinking about telehealth in general. Over COVID-19, we started to realize how important these touch points are with either care providers or with other entities, the virtual touch points, because we couldn't get out of our house, our businesses weren't open.
And so, virtual technology became so important over COVID 19 and the same thing happened in dentistry and with telehealth. A few years back, the telehealth boom started where it became the norm for our physician to reach out via text or to have a virtual chat or virtual video chat with our physicians. And sometimes teledentistry, sometimes dentistry can be somewhat behind our health care colleagues and friends in the technology realm. And so, what we see now are more adoption, more implementation of virtual care within dentistry. And it's quite exciting, really. It's exciting for the patients and it's exciting for the practice owners and for the clinicians as well.
EC:No, that is exciting. So, then with that, what would you say would be the key benefits to offering teledentistry to your patients?
MT: So, from a business model, if the word for 2020, when we all had to shut down in quarantine, if the word for that year was pivot, the word for this year is flexibility. We don't even want to talk about pivoting anymore, but for 2021, the word is flexibility because we realized how important it is to have flexibility in a business model, in a health care delivery model, in our own personal lives, we want that flexibility. And so, the biggest benefit for a dental practice owner, a dental business owner who's going to incorporate virtual care into their delivery model, the biggest benefit is flexibility. The patients' lives are more flexible, the business model is more flexible, and even from a career standpoint.
I'm a clinical provider, I'm a dental hygienist, and when I use teledentistry and virtual care, my own personal career life becomes more flexible as well. And so, that's probably the biggest benefit, and then efficiency is right there. The more flexible you can get in whatever you're doing, the more efficient you can be. And that'll raise that bottom line up very, very much, and especially in dentistry.
EC:Absolutely. I mean, that's the, you just said, I mean, bottom line is and can be a very, very important thing to all dental practices of all sizes, single practice, multi, it really matters. So, with that, then what would you say what's the best way for dentists to begin actually incorporating teledentistry into their practice?
MT: So, the biggest myth out there when I consult with and talk to practice owners who asked me that question, they a lot of times are over-complicating it. They're overthinking it. And then I say, "Okay, let's take a step back. Let's think about how much we use virtual technology in our everyday lives and then let's just take these small steps. Start small and see how we can incorporate it into the dental practice, the daily occurrence of the dental practice." So, usually what I say, if I'm talking to a dental practice owner, I'll say, "Pick your favorite patient out of the lineup for the day, whether it's a triage appointment, whether it's a quick post-op, you're just looking and seeing to make sure something healed, whether it's an evaluation, if they're coming in for a hygiene visit and you just need to do a quick check for that.
Pick your favorite patient, start small and just call the patient and say, 'Hey, can you help me? We're going to try implement this virtual care, I'd love to just check it out with you. You can stay at your house, you don't have to come in." Who's going to say no to that? And so, then I say, "Okay, then week after week, pick your favorite patient and then when you feel comfortable, then day after day, pick your favorite patient. And start doing it that way." And that's great for established patients and then new patients, that's a whole different ball game with teledentistry. And I'm sure we'll dive into that later, but it's also a great lead generator for new patients as well.
EC: Oh, that's great. All right. So, let's shift the conversation now to mobile dental care. And like you did with teledentistry, can you explain what mobile dental care is and why have we seen such a surge in practices offering this service?
MT: So, the bottom line with mobile dentistry and teledentistry too, we'll start to combine them here, they go together like peanut butter and jelly. You can certainly have one without the other, but the technology behind virtual care has allowed the mobile provider to go more mobile, but stay better connected at the same time. And that's a very important key point here to hone in on for the listeners. Whether you're a practice owner, whether you're an entrepreneur, it's very important to know this. So, in the brands that I have helped start in dentistry, we've got the National Mobile and Teledentistry Conference, we've got the American Mobile and Teledentistry Alliance, and these two brands, what we've done is we've separated. We've said, mobile dentistry and teledentistry, they're two different things.
But whenever I talk about mobile dentistry, it always includes the virtual care. So, dentistry right now is on this learning curve where they see the two separate, but eventually, it's all going to combine into one. And we're not even going to be talking about mobile care or teledentistry because it's just going to be how we do things. And that's what's coming down the pipeline two, three years from now. We saw a huge surge over COVID, of this kind of thinking outside of the traditional box, and that's one thing with the dental industry. For those outside of the dental industry, dentistry is very traditional and it's a very small health care niche. And it takes a while to help dental practice owners get over that first learning curve to help that industry wide adoption. And that's where we are right now and that's really exciting.
So, mobile dentistry at its simplest is dentistry on wheels. And whether it's an RV that pulls up to somebody's house, whether it's a trailer, whether it's a small sprinter van, we're even seeing pods that are delivered to workplaces like Nike headquarters or Amazon headquarters. It'll stay there for a couple months, treat the employees, and then be picked up and taken somewhere else. And I call that the sexy mobile dentistry, because it's usually branded well, you can build it in with porches and seating areas, and it's amazing. And so, while in the past, if you mentioned mobile dentistry to a dentist, most likely still to this day, most likely they'll think of charitable pop-up clinics. Most likely they'll think of maybe taking care into an assisted living facility, or they'll think of taking dental care into schools. But the reality is that, that's changing and it's because our patients are saying, "Hey, we want the care to come to us." And so, that's where we're going and that's where we're headed in dentistry.
EC: So, on that note, when you were talking about that teledentistry and mobile dentistry really are going to become one, and you already talked about some of the benefits and some of the best ways for a dentist to get started, say, in teledentistry, what would then be your answer to if a dentist was asking, "What do I need to consider before starting a mobile care practice?" What would you say?
MT: Yeah. So, again, keep it simple, start small, pick your favorite patient who maybe lives down the street and say, "Hey, we're going to come to you." And the great thing is that we were talking about flexibility earlier, Erick, and it's one of these things. Mobile dentistry is super flexible. So, you could spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and buy a really nice Winnebago RV and pimp it out with dental stuff on it and make it super cool. Or you can go the lesser overhead way. We have these dental units that are basically in suitcases and you just wheel it on into the patient's house and it's a wonderful way to serve patients. And they don't mind it, they love it actually. You can set up on their porch, in their yard. There's even a hygienist over in England who bikes everywhere with this in a little back trailer, and patients love it, they're dying for it.
And so, it's one of these things you can start small and then start with the lowest overhead. And then once you figure out what your demand is, once a dental practice owner figures out, "Okay, what kind of patient do I want to target with this? Do I want to go into the assisted living facilities? Or do I want to go and treat students in the school? Or do I want to go to see patients at their houses?" Once you have that target audience figured out, then you can really dive into, "Okay, how much am I going to spend and invest in this, and what equipment am I going to get," and go from there.
EC:So, I'm really fighting the urge to answer this question for you. But I have to ask, I mean, obviously, again, you'll see teledentistry and mobile dental care, I mean, you see that as a really great opportunity for dentists to reach new types of patients.
MT: I do, yeah.
MT: Yeah. And that's what we're seeing now for teledentistry in particular, and for mobile dentistry. We're at the point now where it's subdividing into two different groups. It's dividing into, okay, here are the tools and the technology and the ways to do it if you want to use this delivery model to see your established patients. And then, here are the tools and the types of services that you can utilize to help see new patients. And sometimes, these new patients can initiate it right on their phone. They can go to an app and they can say, "Hey, my tooth hurts, I need to see a dentist." And the app will connect a mobile provider or a telehealth provider right to the patient. Sometimes there's a cool widget under the brand SmileSnap. And so, SmileSnap, what they do is they put a widget on a dentist website. And then as soon as you go to the website, you can start a virtual appointment right there.
And that's another great way just to get these new leads generated for you like you're a dental practice owner for dental practice owners, but it's a great way. And it's two different things, it's two different pathways that you can take with the virtual care. And then what we're also seeing too is, once a traditional dentist office starts to think virtual care, starts to think outside of the four walls of their fixed practice, then they really start to understand virtual care is the gateway for them. They're like, "Okay, I'll see a virtual patient every now and again."
And then once they start doing that, they're like, "Oh, well, what if I send a provider to the patient's house? And that means this dental op is open for a full day lucrative procedure that I haven't had time to put in my schedule." And so, it starts to open up, it starts to make it more efficient, and it's a win-win for both the patient and the practice owner. And that's what I've been saying for years. And it's finally, finally starting to take off because the patients are demanding it, really. That's what's happening now.
EC: Alright. So, then with all that said, could you share some resources that you personally recommend for individuals looking to learn more about either teledentistry or mobile dental care?
MT:Yeah. So, the biggest thing, if someone is interested in, if a dental practice or even venture, we're seeing some venture capitalists and seed money come into this type of dental health care delivery models now, too. So, if you're interested in this, I would say, save the date March 3rd through 5th for Las Vegas. That's our next conference, mobile and teledentistry conference. The website is nmdconference.com. That's a must do. You'll meet mobile providers, you'll understand the capability and where you can take it and what you can do with it. We're seeing orthodontists and aligner treatment really go this route, and we're seeing specialists start to go this route as well. I would say, also join the American Mobile and Teledentistry Alliance because that's where the change can happen. So, the Alliance has a 501(c)(4), which means we have legislative power and capability. And so, we're going to start to take some action with that as well.
We also have a podcast every Monday, Dentistry Gone Wild. It's the official podcast of mobile and teledentistry. And if you meet me and the other cohost, my good friend, Sonya Dunbar, you'll understand that Dentistry Gone Wild is a really great name. We know that dentistry is serious, but it doesn't have to be boring, and that's the key there. And then there's also some Facebook groups that you're welcome to join and just peruse. I Heart Mobile Dentistry is a great one that's been around for a while. We also have Teledentistry for Beginners, and then also another one called Advanced Teledentistry that you're welcome to join. And once you enter this community, you'll realize there's so many resources, so many good books, and other podcasts, and things that you can join, and webinars that you can go to as well.
EC:That's great. That really is. Well, Melissa, really thank you very much. Really appreciate your time. Thank you for sharing your time, your knowledge, your perspective with our listeners. Really appreciate it.
MT:Erick, thank you so much. And if anyone wants to reach out personally, you can find me at my website, melissakturner.com. I'd be happy to speak with you or walk you through any of the fine print with teledentistry and mobile dentistry.
EC: Fantastic. Thank you. And thank you for listening to the EisnerAmper Podcast. Be sure to visit eisneramper.com for more information on this and a host of other topics and join us for our next EisnerAmper Dental Dialogues Podcast.
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Erick Cutler is a Partner in the Private Client Services Group, with nearly 25 years of public accounting experience including health care and the real estate industry.
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