Washington — The ADA is asking the Federal Communications Commission to extend the agency’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program to include dental practices regardless of the practice’s size, location or for-profit status.
Teledentistry, is “an important way to ensure access to care” during a pandemic, ADA President Chad P. Gehani and Executive Director Kathleen T. O’Loughlin said in an April 27 letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.
Drs. Gehani and O’Loughlin informed the FCC that on March 16, the ADA called upon dentists to postpone nonemergency procedures. They also shared an April 6 ADA Health Policy Institute survey that found nearly 80% of dentists nationwide reported seeing only emergency patients in order to help slow community spread, preserve medical supplies and relieve emergency departments from seeing dental patients.
“Dentists use virtual screening to determine the nature of patient dental emergencies,” wrote Drs. Gehani and O’Loughlin, noting that the ADA Interim Guidance for Minimizing Risk of COVID-19 Transmission asks dentists to “make every effort to interview the patient by telephone, text monitoring system or video conference before the visit.”
They pointed out that video conference is an especially effective way to screen dental emergencies but said many dentists are facing significant economic burdens due to the pandemic and need access to FCC funds in order to afford teledentistry costs. These costs include software to electronically message and screen patients, upgrades to the office computer system, upgrades to the office internet, extra-oral X-ray imaging equipment, digital sensors and X- ray units, and digital cameras and intra-oral cameras.
“This is the case regardless of the dental practice’s size, location, or for-profit status,” said Drs. Gehani and O’Loughlin, adding that the ADA “urgently requests” that the FCC reconsider its decision to limit participation in the COVID-19 Telehealth Program to the health care providers that fall within the categories of health care providers in section 254(h)(7)(B) of the 1996 Telecommunications Act.
“The [Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act] says that the FCC may limit the Telehealth Program to such providers, but does not require the Commission to do so. The ADA urges the FCC to reconsider its decision and allow all dentists to apply for the Telehealth Program funds,” Drs. Gehani and O’Loughlin concluded.
For the latest ADA information on COVID-19, visit ADA.org/virus.