Continuing Critical Dental Care Through a Groundbreaking Telehealth Service
By Alison Singh Gee
It was back in January when the team at the College of Dentistry first raised a red flag about COVID-19. Robert Glickman, an associate dean and professor, was concerned about how the virus might affect operations at NYU’s frenetically busy dental clinic.
“We’d been following what was going on worldwide, discussing news reports coming out of China and the World Health Organization,” says Glickman, who has been with NYU since 1978. Early on, Glickman says, he and his colleagues weren’t thinking that the virus would impact patient care; more so that many of their supplies, purchased from vendors working with China, and lab work sent to China could affect the school’s operations. “We were concerned we might face [PPE] shortages,” says Glickman, whose team responded by lining up alternate vendors.
Soon enough, however, Glickman and his team knew they were facing down a crisis. Leaving patients without access to a dentist was out of the question; it typically serves some 70 emergency patients daily and receives over 300,000 scheduled visits yearly. The clinic welcomes all who need care, treating veterans, people with disabilities, and New Yorkers of all ages; no one is ever turned away, regardless of the ability to pay. The clinic’s capacity to continue working with vulnerable patients with toothaches, abscesses, periodontal disease, and the like was essential. “Dental issues . . . unfortunately don’t take a hiatus during a pandemic,” Glickman points out.
Over one March weekend, Glickman and his team set up the clinic’s groundbreaking Telehealth Service program. A 24-hour hotline was established, and providers from every dental specialty became available for phone consultations to minimize in-person visits to hospitals and urgent care facilities. Assistance was provided to approximately 200 patients daily; they sent in photos and teleconferenced with doctors, who in turn prescribed medications and, in dire circumstances, gave referrals to facilities that provided on-site emergency dental care.
In late June, Dentistry started the transition from exclusively using the Telehealth Service and began a gradual, phased resumption of clinical services. As disconcerting as the pandemic has been for dental healthcare workers and patients alike, it brought one benefit: the development of these telephone and videoconferencing systems. With plans for expansion, says Glickman, patient time in the office “is going to be spent more in actual treatment . . . Appointments will become much more efficient."