December 21, 2022
According to research from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Americans got back 60 million hours of their time as a result of remote work during the pandemic. So how are people using this reclaimed time? They’re focusing on previously neglected health and wellness efforts. In 2019, the CDC estimated that only 64.9% of adults visited their dentist, while around 31.6% of adults had untreated cavities. Yet with more time to spare, people are refocusing on their oral health; but that’s just a part of the story. Life during COVID – with remote work, digital communication, and the doorstep delivery of everything – has changed the nature of patient expectations in dentistry. And the industry is evolving rapidly to meet them.
The New Normal Is Digital, On Demand, and Delivered
The aftermath of COVID-19’s peak did not return us to the routines and lifestyles we enjoyed in the before times; they produced a “new normal.” From crisis springs opportunity, they say. And people dealing with the limitations imposed during the outbreak learned to embrace some of these accommodations as convenience. No more driving to and from the office. Food and merchandise delivered to your door. Virtual medical and dental visits through digital platforms. For the most part, these things are here to stay.
The pandemic reshaped and redefined countless aspects of our society, our approaches to work, and even our daily habits. Many of these new behaviors and expectations didn’t vanish along with shelter-in-place orders or imposed distancing. The unprecedented shift to remote work has endured, with employees resigning in droves at companies demanding returns to the office. Today’s workforce views work from home (WFH) arrangements as a benefit, and WFH or hybrid models will undoubtedly persist as part of the new normal.
“Even as the pandemic has waned, more than 15 percent of full-time employees remain fully remote and an additional 30 percent work in hybrid arrangements (Barrero, Bloom, and Davis),” the Federal Reserve report noted. “These changes have substantially reduced time spent commuting to work; in the aggregate, Americans now spend 60 million fewer hours traveling to work each day.” That lost time has translated into a newfound concentration on wellness.
Amazon changed the nature of commerce. Companies such as Uber spurred the growth of the “gig” or “sharing” economy. These models disrupted a wide variety of business sectors, from transportation to lodgings, entertainment, and business-to-business supply chains. Our increasingly digital infrastructure has empowered these shifts, but consumer demand is the catalyst for the explosive growth of an on-demand, doorstep delivery solution that has come to define the modern shopping experience. The onset of COVID-19 profoundly propelled these attitudes. And healthcare had to catch up during the pandemic. Now, it’s progressing alongside patient desires.
I Want It Now, I Want It Here
Even before the advent of COVID-19, which fueled the massive growth of delivery and e-commerce services, shoppers had already begun to rely more on Amazon than the brick-and-mortar stores they once frequented. The pandemic may have abated, but studies show that these purchasing trends did not.
E-commerce surged during the pandemic, however studies from the International Trade Administration indicate that we will see a steady 8% growth rate through 2024.
The overwhelming conclusion business leaders must confront, regardless of their industry or customer base, is this: people want services delivered to them on their schedule. And yes, this will include dental care.
Teledentistry on the Rise
According to 2019 Health Center Program Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 43% of health centers were capable of providing telemedicine, compared with 95% of the health centers that reported using telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic. Surprisingly, telehealth remains strong, even though providers have been allowed to resume normal operations: “the percentage of all visits via telemedicine visits is slowly declining from its April peak. But it continues to be well above the prepandemic baseline of very few telemedicine visits.”
Virtual dental care, also known as teledentistry, is no longer a niche service offering. The pandemic may have ushered in widespread adoption, but its growth was gaining traction well before the outbreak of COVID-19. According to surveys conducted by DentaVox, nearly 80% of U.S. households said they expected to rely on it over the next five years. In some fashion, it’s likely to become a new standard in all of dentistry.
Teledentistry is the remote delivery of dental care, consultation, follow-up care, and education through telecommunications. The idea is as old as the telephone itself. But with advances in video conferencing and online platforms, the systems have become incredibly robust. Video consults connect the patient’s laptop, tablet, or smartphone to a dentist who diagnoses the problem and accelerates treatment options, which may include electronic prescriptions for antibiotics and non-narcotic pain medication. When follow-up care is required, next-day appointments can be booked. There are several advantages.
- Enhances the patient experience when physical visits aren’t possible through personal interaction with a dental provider by phone or video
- Minimizes the risk of exposure to the coronavirus for patients and dental professionals
- Significantly reduces the load on hospital emergency rooms related to dental problems
- Immediate online scheduling, expedited assessments and treatment recommendations, and faster access to a network of available dentists from the comfort of the patient’s home
- Private, secure, and fully compliant with information protection regulations such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)
- Video interactions may improve the quality of diagnosis because patients can better describe their conditions using body language, pointing to problem areas, or even showing what’s happening inside their mouths
But digital platforms and teledentistry systems represent only part of this equation. RDH Magazine noted that “as dental practices and health-care organizations increasingly explore ways to include mobile delivery into their current model of care, the mobile dentistry movement continues to gain traction as one of the most popular up-and-coming trends within the profession.”
As the current consumer trends persist, more and more people are demanding the same solutions from dental providers as they do from e-commerce sites and delivery services. So, they will expect an offering that combines teledentistry with a mobile component.
Concierge Mobile Dentistry
Breakthroughs in portable equipment — such as x-ray units, treatment carts, and compressors — have advanced the practice of mobile dentistry and patient interest. However, most mobile dentistry remains relegated to those with special needs: the geriatric, those with physical or mental challenges, the permanently homebound, and others. That’s changing now too.
Prior to COVID-19, people with the means to do so routinely pampered themselves with private manicures, in-home personal trainers for workouts, and other individualized services in their offices or residences. Since the pandemic, with the renewed focus on health, the same people are looking for that same level of personalized, on-premise dental care.
As Tina Rosenberg explained in her New York Times article, “House calls may be making a revival among the wealthy through concierge telemedicine.”
Business leaders are also realizing the benefits of on-demand, on-site concierge dentistry. Right now, one of HR’s biggest efforts is to focus on the mental health of employees who are readjusting to life after the pandemic. Increased stress and anxiety led to a rise of bruxism, or teeth grinding. People with depression often neglect oral hygiene. Coping mechanisms also lead to habits that damage oral health, such as sugary foods, alcohol, or tobacco use. When people become embarrassed about their smile, they also withdraw or lose self-esteem, which exacerbates mental health symptoms. A mobile dental pop-up helps HR professionals conquer these challenges for returning and hybrid workers.
Preventative care helps mitigate absenteeism and lost productivity associated with dental emergencies. Mobile dentistry allows a company’s staff to receive the best preventative dental care just feet away from their working areas. For remote and hybrid team members, a pop-up provides a new way of incentivizing workers to head back to the office.
This Is What We Do
If all of this sounds like the stuff of speculative fiction or futuristic prognosticating, it’s very real. In fact, it’s what we do – and have done for years. The modernization of house calls, mobile dentistry, and portable equipment is a cornerstone of the Blende Dental Group, which is home to House Call Dentists.
Our fully equipped team of dentists, registered dental assistants, and mobile hygienists provide in-home dental evaluations and treatments with portable dental equipment. Based on our assessment, we determine the level of care required and whether treatment can be delivered in the home or under sedation in our office or the hospital. Providing sedation in any of these locations allows us to complete care in as few as one or two visits.
We provide preventative, restorative, and emergency care 24/7/365. Our teams handle the setup and breakdown of all portable equipment, as well as access to our teledentistry platform, which provides real-time access to video visits with your dentist, treatment plans, and more.
What about mobile dentistry pop ups for businesses? Our affiliate company, Dentists on Demand, has that covered. Dentists on Demand (DOD) has pioneered a solution, powered by its proprietary CUSPID teledentistry portal, that delivers oral care right to a company’s office. Utilizing a conference room or unoccupied space, DOD sets up a portable dental unit to treat employees on site. No missed work hours, no unexpected absenteeism, no reason for employees to ignore dental needs until they become emergencies.
DOD teams also rely on hospital-grade sterilization techniques that include enhanced PPE and air purifiers with HEPA filters and germicidal UV-C lights.
The world has changed. Patient needs and expectations have changed. And the nature of dental health has changed. We understand that. And no one could have anticipated the radical adjustments we would have to make moving beyond the pandemic, the foundation of our dental practice has ideally positioned us to support the new needs of patients as they forge ahead in their new normal.