Study: Teledentistry effective way to broaden rural access, lower costs

Teledentistry enables rural access to care, lowers costs and helps provide preventive services, a new study has found. 

The CareQuest Institute looked at data for patients in Oregon and Washington. The study included data from more than 60,100 individuals who had a dental visit either in person or through teledentistry in the second half of 2020.

Most (79%) patients with a teledentistry visit had a follow-up visit sometime in 2021, the vast majority of which were in person. Most (60%) had this visit within three weeks of their teledentistry visit, which primarily consisted of diagnostic and restorative services. 

Nearly 6% of all patients studied had a teledentistry visit, nearly a quarter of which involved medical imaging. The most common billing codes used were for assessment and evaluation, diagnosis and treatment planning, oral hygiene instruction and nutritional counseling for control and prevention of oral disease. 

Teledentistry was utilized more often by individuals in rural locations and was less expensive ($15 less on average), the study found. That suggests cost savings of about 10% to 15%.

“The findings of this study demonstrate that teledentistry can be used to successfully communicate with patients, triage patient needs, and plan in-person visits more efficiently,” the study said.

In-person visits for those who did not have a telehealth appointment were mostly focused on prevention, while patients could receive preventive services—including oral hygiene instructions and nutritional counseling—virtually. 

The study encouraged payers to enable greater coverage of services, train network providers and educate patients about teledentistry.

“There is much potential to move beyond emergency-focused teledentistry care, toward using the modality to enable comprehensive, risk-based, and integrated care that improves quality at a lower cost for communities, care teams, and payors,” it concluded.