FYI

Dentist blog from Delta Dental

Category: Patients (Page 1 of 3)

Browse tips and resources to help you support your patients.

How to execute a successful teledentistry visit

Delivering dental care during a pandemic is tough, due to social distancing and equipment requirements, but you can maintain safe contact with your patients through teledentistry. In fact, you can plan your interactions so they are valuable for your patients and effective in your treatment.

Here are tips for conducting a successful consultation:

1. Scheduling

Give yourself time to prepare for the online/phone visit, to review patient records and x-rays.  Set aside enough time for your session to discuss issues, conduct an exam, and explain follow-up care.

2. Documentation

Have your patient fill out forms (intake, patient consent) ahead of the visit.  Note any problems or issues the patient has reported so you can focus your assessment.

3. Technology

Make sure your videoconferencing software is set up, with a web camera, and use a headset to keep your hands free for making notes or to demonstrate procedures. You can have images loaded for viewing with the patient. Ensure that your patient has the necessary internet connection for the visit. 

4. Environment

Make sure your background is quiet, so there are no distractions during the visit. You can position a source of light in front of your camera, and inform your patient to face natural light or a light source so you can view each other clearly.

5. Examination and tools

During the visit, when you are evaluating bite and oral health, give your patient instructions on what to do to facilitate your assessment.

You can direct the patient to position a metal or plastic spoon for retraction, use a mirror (compact or handheld dental mirror) for showing back of the teeth and posterior areas, and handle a flashlight or phone light for illumination. Your patient can use a wooden chopstick for bite testing and frozen wet cotton swabs for cold testing.

With preparation and a thorough approach, you can make a teledentistry visit fit into your seamless care delivery for patients when they are unable to make an in-person visit. It can be integrated into your practice, such as for postoperative exams, to keep your office chairs open for productive in-person visits.

Get assistance communicating with patients who don’t speak English

Do you have patients who speak languages you don’t? Whether your patients don’t speak the same languages as you and your staff, or if they’re just most comfortable speaking in their native tongue, being able to successfully communicate is essential in delivering the care your patients need and deserve.

Fortunately, that doesn’t mean you have to take the time to learn a whole new language (although doing so is certainly a worthwhile endeavor!). Delta Dental offers interpreters via telephone, on-site interpretation services and more through our Language Assistance Program (LAP).

LAP is here to help

Delta Dental’s Language Assistance Program is an invaluable tool when it comes to communicating with patients who may not share any languages with you or your staff. LAP is available free of charge to all Delta Dental enrollees and includes the following benefits. We strongly encourage you to refer your patients to the LAP page on our website.

  • Customer Service phone assistance in over 170 languages
  • Professional interpretive services, including in-person interpretation
  • Written materials in non-English languages (and accessible formats)
  • And more!

Providing care to Spanish speakers

Did you know that, after English, Spanish is the most commonly reported language spoken by Delta Dental enrollees? More than any other language, a non-English-speaking patient of yours is likely to speak Spanish. That’s why we’ve put together extra resources to help you communicate with these patients.

Steps you can take to boost your skills

There are steps you and your staff can take to make communication easier and to create a more welcoming environment for your patients. We recommend these strategies:

  • Attend classes and continuing education courses that address the social customs among your patients’ different cultures.
  • Document your practice’s protocols for working with cultural differences and make sure all of your staff are familiar with it.
  • Allow time to make sure that your patients understand you and the care you recommend for them. Be ready to answer questions and don’t be afraid to ask some of your own.
  • Familiarize yourself with professional interpretive services and resources available in your community to assist your patients.
  • And finally, ask your patients and their accompanying relatives and friends how you can create a more comfortable environment.

How to talk to patients about returning to your office

As a dentist, you know that regular office visits are essential for your patients’ oral health, but your patients might have questions and concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the American Dental Association, 98% of dental practices are open for business, but less than 50% are seeing the same number of patients as before the pandemic.

The ADA has also found that most people are ready to return to their dentist’s office (although some of them may need assurances that they’ll be safe) even if there are COVID-19 cases locally, and that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the ADA are the two most trusted sources of information about whether or not it’s safe to go to the dentist. With all of that in mind, here are some tips on how to get patients back in the office, reassure them of their safety and keep them coming back.

1. Put new safety procedures and practices in place

Reassuring your patients of their safety is an essential first step in encouraging them to return. Dentists’ offices have long been kept meticulously clean to prevent the spread of bloodborne illnesses. The spread of COVID-19, though, has required new practices to address potential infection through saliva droplets. Highlighting these new practices is an excellent opportunity to make your patients feel safer.

For example, these practices may be worth implementing:

  • Have patients wait for their appointments inside their cars rather than inside your waiting room, even if you have the space for them to socially distance.
  • Put up a clear plastic screen between the front desk and the waiting area. This helps to prevent a stray cough or sneeze from spreading saliva droplets when patients are checking in or paying their bill.
  • Install equipment that helps remove germs from the office, such as medical-grade air purifiers.
  • Check patients’ temperature with an infrared thermometer upon their arrival. You’ll want to use a thermometer especially made for use as a wellness device (infrared thermometers that aren’t explicitly made for medical use may be inaccurate when used on the human body.)
  • Have patients do their part, too, such as by performing a peroxide rinse before getting into the chair.

2. Effectively communicate with and listen to your patients

One of the biggest contributors to feelings of fear and uncertainty is a lack of reliable information from a trusted source. When it comes to their oral health, you are your patients’ primary subject matter expert. Explain not just what changes you’re instituting at the office to keep patients safe, but also why you’re making those changes and how they keep patients safe.

It’s important to create opportunities to interact with your patients so that you can keep them informed of the latest changes and persuade them to return when they’re ready. The ADA has found that patients prefer to be communicated with via email, text and phone, in that order.

If you’re using software to communicate with your patients via email or text, let them know:

  • Your office is open for business
  • You’re following new procedures to ensure everyone’s safety
  • You’re available to talk if they have questions or concerns (offering teledentistry appointments is a great way to interact directly with your patients!)

If you’d rather emphasize a human touch, you could have office staff directly call your patients to remind them not to forget check-ups and see if there’s anything your office can do for them.

Also, don’t forget to be an active listener. If you ask your patients their concerns, make sure you indicate that you’re listening attentively and taking their words under consideration.

3. Think outside the box

Finally, when it comes to persuading patients to return and attracting new patients, don’t be afraid to think outside the box! Encourage patients to leave reviews and feedback on social media. A positive review and a description of safety protocols on Yelp or Google can go a long way towards assuring would-be patients that your office is a safe environment.

Similarly, consider updating your practice’s website if you haven’t done so recently. Adding customer testimonials is a good idea, and you can also add photos that highlight changes throughout your office. If you’re feeling especially ambitious, you could also create a video walkthrough of your practice to serve as a virtual tour of the office! Or, add videos that highlight new safety practices and equipment you’ve implemented, such as peroxide rinses or medical-grade air purifiers.

We also suggest updating your current office hours in Provider Tools to help your patients access care in your office. Patients often use the dentist directory when looking for contact information, so making sure that your information is up to date and that it matches the info available in other locations (such as your website or Yelp) can help eliminate confusion. Fortunately, logging in to your profile in our Provider Tools and update your office hours is simple!

The ADA’s Health Policy Institute has also found that nearly three out of four people who visited the dentist in 2019 would be comfortable returning right now. Another 11% would be willing to return to the dentist if they had some kind of assurance that their visit would be safe while the remaining 15% are waiting for a vaccine. That means that if you’re seeing fewer than 85% of the patients you were before the pandemic, you might be able to bring more back to your practice. Follow the steps above, and you might get the extra bump in business you need to make the new normal a little more like the old one.

How you can help fight opioid addiction

As an oral health care provider, you’re an essential member in the fight against the opioid epidemic. Many adolescents who abuse opioids have their first encounter with medically prescribed painkillers (such as those prescribed for wisdom tooth removal), according to the National Institutes of Health. The overall percentage of opioids prescribed by dentists increased by 12.9% from 2010 through 2015, so being aware of how to combat overprescribing is more important than ever.

The American Dental Association’s Policy on Opioid Prescribing supports:

  • making continuing education on prescribing opioids and other controlled substances mandatory
  • implementing statutory limits on opioid dosage and prescription duration
  • improving the quality, integrity and interoperability of state drug monitoring programs

Another important aspect of helping to combat opioid addiction is having open and honest discussions with your patients. The ADA has put together resources to help you educate your patients about the addictive qualities of narcotic painkillers. You can find a comprehensive collection of webinars about opioid prevention for dentists. For example, the ADA offers advice on selecting strategies for pain management that are appropriate for the estimated severity of different procedures.

Studies have also found that a combination of ibuprofen and acetaminophen can be a more effective pain management tool than simply prescribing opioids, as well. As Dr. Daniel Croley, our Vice President of Network Development, says, “We ask that all dentists consider non-addictive pain management as their first choice. When narcotics are needed, only prescribe the lowest dosage and quantity needed to effectively manage your patients’ pain.”

The opioid epidemic may be too big for any one person to solve, but to quote Dr. Croley, “Together, we can stop the overprescription and abuse of opioids.”

Learn how to manage patients’ info with a new Provider Tools video

To help bring you more tools and better services, we’re releasing a series of new instructional videos about Provider Tools! In our first video, focused on the “My Patients” tool, you’ll learn how to:

  • Use the “My Patients” tool to view info for Delta Dental enrollees
  • Look up a patient’s eligibility, benefits info and treatment history

Whether you want a quick overview of a patient’s info or need to drill down by procedure code or tooth, it’s all available in Provider Tools.

Watch the video to learn how.

Stay tuned for more videos about new features and helpful guides!

How to improve communication with non-English-speaking patients

Do you have patients who best understand a language other than English? Being able to communicate with your patients is essential, and the Language Assistance Program can help. You’ll help increase your patients’ comfort level, engage them in the treatment process and improve the quality of the health care you provide.

Be supportive. You can direct non-English-speaking patients to our Language Assistance Program. They’ll get the support they need with forms and get access to important written materials in their language of choice. They can also get help understanding health and wellness materials.

Get to know your patients. Take steps to accommodate your patients’ cultural differences:

  • Advise your Delta Dental patients with limited proficiency in English about their right to language assistance services free of charge through our Language Assistance Program (LAP).
  • Document your practice’s protocol for working with cultural differences in your office manual. Make sure all staff are familiar with it.
  • Do your best to actively respect patients’ cultural differences. When you make a conscious effort to create an inclusive in-office experience, it shows.
  • Ask patients (or an accompanying relative or friend) what their preferred language is and how you can create a comfortable environment. Note and highlight the answers in the patient’s chart.
  • Be sensitive to how well each patient understands you and always take time to answer questions.

Call for language assistance. You or your patient may call Customer Service and we will arrange for a qualified interpreter to help via telephone.

For on-site interpretation services, call at least 72 hours in advance of the appointment time. (Dentists and office staff are not prohibited from speaking with patients in languages other than English; however, use of interpretive services is recommended.)

Did you know? Spanish is the most commonly reported non-English language spoken among our enrollees in the U.S., according to Delta Dental of California and its affiliates’ latest population assessment. Next in line are Chinese, Tagalog and Vietnamese.

Additional resources:

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