Healthcare professionals don’t have the luxury of being wrong, and dentists are no exception. Dentists are often the first to notice symptoms of health problems throughout the body – a crucial line of defense against outbreaks. This is especially true for monkeypox, which can lead to oral lesions that may be discovered by dentists first.
While healthcare offices sometimes struggle to successfully communicate with and retain patients, today’s technologies are becoming increasingly popular among dental professionals. An arsenal of streamlined automated systems and centralized data enables medical professionals to better guard against a growing range of diseases while ensuring continuity of care for patients.
A well-equipped first line of defence
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, dental visits fell to 7% of pre-pandemic levels as 45% of dental practices were forced to lay off their staff by mid-April 2020. to return, and understaffed dental teams are under enormous pressure. As we face another viral threat, we need to educate dental teams about emerging disease outbreaks and ensure healthcare providers communicate appropriately with staff and patients.
The CDC and state-level organizations like the California Dental Association have been diligent in releasing comprehensive guidelines for dental teams. Fortunately, many of the guidelines for fighting the spread are the same as those for preventing COVID-19. Tried and tested pandemic solutions, such as wearing the right protective gear, can help dentists avoid infections. Ongoing communication with infected patients also remains important, as many patients are unlikely to have prior experience with this virus.
Digital records for unparalleled continuity of care
Digitization systems can help dental practices better manage employee turnover and emerging disease outbreaks. At the moment, the dental industry still lives on a skeleton crew. With 289,000 dental employees missing from the workforce, teams must leverage efficient processes through technology. Cloud-based solutions can streamline processes. This kind of technology is revolutionizing the way medical teams communicate with each other, their patients and the rest of the healthcare system.
In the case of monkeypox, dental providers using the cloud will be better able to access and update patient records, distribute infection control information to staff and share patient records with appropriate services for testing, treatment and ongoing care. Digital communication enables healthcare providers to tailor care reminders to patients, based on individual symptom manifestations. While medical and dental services are often treated as separate services, cloud-based technologies also help dentists communicate more easily with a patient’s other healthcare providers, closing vital information gaps.
These efforts are not only effective for monkeypox. Monkeypox is an obvious example of a disease that can sometimes be diagnosed first by dentists, but it’s not the only health condition that sometimes shows up first in our teeth and gums. Eating disorders, stress, lupus and diabetes are often first identified by dentists. Even COVID-19 has been linked to potential dental problems. Digitized dental services can help detect and contain emerging disease outbreaks.
A healthcare renaissance fueled by a cloud revolution
From a patient perspective, digitized processes improve safety during infectious disease outbreaks and enable better integration of dentistry with external healthcare. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when I was experiencing acute toothaches, I knew visiting a dentist would be difficult. The process was made more complicated because few practices had fully working digitized systems. Instead of being able to text my provider my pertinent information, I found myself filling out paperwork on the street outside the office.
Cloud-based technologies can also help combat compartmentalized healthcare systems where patients bear the burden of connecting insights from different providers. Patients with multisystem diseases, such as monkeypox and COVID-19, often have to jump from specialist to specialist, using valuable time to track down and share records across different healthcare disciplines. This effort can be exhausting and all too often important data is lost in the shuffle. As healthcare professionals prepare for evolving and emerging diseases, it is critical that they have easy access to test results, x-rays, and medical histories, all of which can drastically impact care protocols. Historically, large dental record files such as 3D images have been difficult to share, but cloud-based technology now makes this possible.
So, why aren’t more dentists jumping into the cloud? It can be difficult to convince providers to upgrade systems, especially those who have been using outdated technology for a long time. Some may also be suspicious of new systems because of the industry’s long history of deceptive marketing. Sometimes it takes longer for older providers who are less used to using cloud-based technology in their daily lives to understand its benefits in a healthcare environment.
Some also worry about having to transition their team to a new system, but most cloud-based systems are more intuitive than legacy technologies (think of it as an upgrade from an early 2000s flip phone to the latest iPhone). Others worry about cybersecurity risks, but new technologies can protect against attacks better than legacy systems.
As dental support organizations transform the landscape of dentistry, COVID-19 and monkeypox reaffirm the importance of continuous innovation. Digitization is a great first step, but electronic healthcare systems, like the one I work for, are already looking for more ways to fund dental care through automated systems and machine learning. If the outbreaks of COVID-19 and monkeypox have taught us anything, it’s that the future is unknown. We need to create solutions that help us catch these incoming curve balls and bring clarity to times of chaos.