Oral Care: Innovative Technology Expands Access and Democratizes Care
A compassionate interaction between doctor and patient in a calm environment can be a wonderful thing, especially in times of anxiety and need. So why do so many of us avoid going to a dentist for regular visits only to end up in the dentist’s chair with a toothache and dreading the outcome?
Dental Health Short Facts
According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 3.5 billion people suffer from oral disease, identifying a significant public health concern. A landmark agreement among WHO members states that oral healthcare interventions should be included in universal health coverage programs and arrives at the start of a critical shift in focus from curative medicine to preventative healthcare.
Regular dental care is recommended for all adults, yet it is often an overlooked aspect of healthcare for employees. A large body of scientific evidence widely acknowledges that poor oral health is linked to systemic health conditions such as Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease, and Alzheimer’s. The risk of periodontal disease and other systemic complications is exponentially higher without access to regular dental care with regular preventative visits, and the economic impact of unmanaged oral health adds up to an estimated $54 billion in lost productivity for employers, largely due to absence from work.
So why do all Americans not have effective access to oral care? The answer is simple: when dental care is not included in basic health insurance packages, and must be covered out-of-pocket or as an add-on insurance cost, individuals often choose not to purchase dental coverage and only visit their dentist for emergencies.
The Need For Change
The dental insurance industry is also beset by outdated processes: the process of locating a dentist within a network, the process of checking eligibility, the process of lengthy claims and billing, the process of having to pay out of pocket even for covered procedures, and the list goes on.
Henry Ford famously said, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got.”
Indeed. It is time to recognize that the dental benefits industry needs transformation. To eliminate opaque and outdated processes, employers, patients, and dentists need to converge on a common platform of stakeholders, which can only happen through technological innovation. Transforming the way oral benefits are rendered requires collaboration between the stakeholders who have existed in historical silos, who each own small pieces of the solution. Enveloping this process with innovative technology can create a system that is infinitely more efficient and accessible.
The Challenges of Effecting Change
There are challenges, however, to accepting innovation in the oral care space. Change is hard in every industry, and is even harder in healthcare, and there is a critical reason for this: healthcare has a deep and profound impact in people’s lives.
Thoughtful innovation in an industry untouched by change for decades, however, can yield extraordinary benefits.
Having the courage to recognize that the oral care industry needs change and implement a safe, strong, and secure solution requires thought leaders and innovators who can think creatively about solutions that impact our lives and the lives of loved ones.
Embracing Technology to Democratize Access
A technology revolution is slowly taking place in the dental benefits industry. The democratization of oral care means placing more knowledge, tools and offering convenience at the fingertips of the patient and empowering them to make informed choices. Adoption of innovation should be made easy with a simple and intuitive interface, powered by smart technology and a well developed artificial intelligence platform at the back end.
It is also critical to embrace technology designed to protect personal information and build systems to safeguard it. Ensuring the privacy and security of patient data will be one of the key challenges of this new era.
Digital connectivity can streamline all aspects of oral health care and helps keep its focus on the delivery of care, where it rightly belongs. With more and more people utilizing devices such as smart watches, internet-connected insulin pumps, or cardiac monitors to manage their health, there is tremendous use of technology to democratize access in healthcare, but there is less of it in oral care.
What better way to do this for oral care than to utilize an existing digital asset: a smartphone that everyone already owns? An app will provide patients with ways to find care providers, compare costs, access dental history, view family benefit usage, etc. This empowerment alleviates the stress of navigating the oral benefit process and gives the patients more choices for service and cost.
Transparency around cost and quality is critical to establishing a trusted partnership between a patient and dentist.
The Potential for Improved Outcomes
Valuable oral care information will live in our smart devices– readily accessible whenever and however it is needed. This kind of data access can only have an enormously positive impact on oral care access and delivery, most especially for those who lack an oral care benefit.
According to the CDC, the mouth reflects general health and well being. Imagine a world where oral care and general health intersect for the provision of holistic care. In addition to health care benefits, if all Americans received oral care which includes a dental cleaning and check-up every six months, dentists could very easily detect early signs of periodontitis (gum disease). Given that periodontal disease is associated with other systemic diseases, this would be a flag for physicians to then enact preventative measures to avoid full blown disease requiring complex treatment further down the road.
Technological innovation in the oral health industry can lead us to a promised land of enabled care that is precise, preventive and personalized with convenient access to data. Let’s march together towards a future that is good for patients, dentists, and employers, on a path to better health and overall wellness by expanding access to oral care in the digital age.
The possibilities are endless.