BCBS MA expands dentistry telehealth coverage during pandemic

Members can now use the Toothpic dentistry telehealth app for three months at no charge and receive a discount on Philips Sonicare tooth care products.
By Kat Jercich
12:29 PM

As conversations continue to swirl about the future of telehealth writ large, questions have been raised about specialties that seem to require greater levels of hands-on care – dentistry among them. 

To help ease the way for nonemergency dental care, Blue Cross Blue Shield Massachusetts announced this week that it would further expand access to dentistry telehealth services for its members.

WHY IT MATTERS

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Consistency in oral healthcare goes beyond preventing cavities; research suggests it can also affect cardiovascular, circulatory and respiratory systems, among others. 

"We know oral health is an important component of overall health and is especially important for the management of chronic health conditions like diabetes and heart disease," said Blue Cross Executive Director of Professional Services Dr. Bob Lewando in a press release Tuesday.

In late March, Blue Cross says it started covering phone or video consultations for members with non-emergency concerns. 

Now it has extended its coverage for members to use three months of Toothpic, an asynchronous online dentistry telehealth platform that allows users to provide a written description and photos of their dental issue. Users will then receive a report with treatment opinions and estimated costs. 

"The Toothpic platform facilitates clinical guidance by licensed dentists to members in just a few hours when they cannot or prefer not to attend a physical dental office," explained CEO Mark Moore. 

Blue Cross is also offering a discount on Philips Sonicare products such as power toothbrushes, replacement brush heads and subscription packages.

In addition, the payer will now cover preventive services twice in a calendar year rather than once every six months. 

"We hope this change will enable members to use all their preventive benefits when their dental practice reopens," said Blue Cross VP of specialty benefits Rich Greenhalgh in the statement. 

"However, members who have non-emergency dental concerns can have a phone or video visit with their dentist at any time, and it will be covered the same way as an in-person visit," Greenhalgh continued.

THE LARGER TREND

Dental care is one of the few areas of medicine that has not generally reported a rise in its telehealth appointment numbers during the pandemic, for perhaps obvious reasons. But providers have been making forays into dentistry telemedicine since before COVID-19 – in some cases, for decades – in order to expand access for patients.

Last year, New Zealand’s Northland District Health Board piloted an oral telehealth service for children and adolescents, using Zoom videoconferencing technology and a specialized intraoral camera to allow dentists to perform examinations and consultations for young patients remotely.

“Telehealth enables assessment in real time and discussion with whānau [extended family] members who are with the patient and is a collaborative tool, enabling knowledge upskilling for the clinical teams involved,” said Roy Davidson, telehealth and mobility program manager.

“Telehealth reduces travel for clinicians, reduces travel for families and provides faster access to specialist dental care," Davidson continued.

ON THE RECORD

"Since many of our dental members have not been able to access dental care in person during much of the COVID-19 crisis, we designed a suite of programs and benefits to ensure they can still get the oral health care they need during this time of social distancing," said Lewando.

Kat Jercich is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.
Twitter: @kjercich
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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