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Aunt Martha’s Teledentistry Initiative Improves Care for Patients with Intellectual, Developmental Disabilities at Little City

Ghassan Souri, DDS, Director of Dental Services, Aunt Martha’s Health & Wellness

Recognizing the challenges many of their clients and caregivers faced in accessing medical and dental care, Little City, which serves children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/

DD), partnered with Aunt Martha’s Health & Wellness to establish the only clinic in the Chicagoland area to combine the elements of a primary care medical and dental home with a model specifically designed to respond to the unique needs of I/DD patients.

“We understood that even a customized clinic environment would not go far enough to overcome the anxieties and challenges that many of Little City’s clients faced with a traditional, office-based approach to dental care,” said Audrey Pennington, Aunt Martha’s Chief Operating Officer. “When Dr. Souri talked to us about the possibilities of teledentistry, our first thoughts went to our patients at Little City and the difference we might make in their lives.”

In May 2019, Aunt Martha’s launched its first teledentistry initiative, extending the impact of its Little City clinic far beyond the walls of its health center on its partner’s sprawling, 56-acre campus in northwest suburban Palatine.

Rather than requiring patients and caregivers to make the time-consuming, often overwhelming trip to a dental office, an Aunt Martha’s dental hygienist goes to the patient. Integrating perfectly with Little City’s

well-established line of home-based services, the model brings Aunt Martha’s dental care directly to the homes of patients with special needs.

The hygienist captures the necessary images and video to the patient’s electronic health record. Using secured, HIPAA-compliant software, the hygienist shares the information with a supervising dentist, who then determines if the patient needs to make a trip to the health center for additional care.

Building on Experience

The teledentistry initiative with Little City is not Aunt Martha’s first foray into the world of telemedicine. In 2007, with funding from the Illinois Department of Human Services, Division of Mental Health, the organization became the first in the state to offer telepsychiatry services.

“The technology was in its infancy at the time, and the systems weren’t in place (at the state level) to bill for the services,” said Pennington. “But the need was so great. Our board and our executive team were compelled to do the right thing for those patients, for those communities.”

From the dental operatory, to the psychiatrist’s couch, to the exam room, to the living room, telemedicine is fundamentally changing the way patients experience and clinicians provide care. Over the past decade, the technology has improved, costs have come down, and payers have begun to adjust their reimbursement models to account for the value of telehealth.

For the team at Aunt Martha’s Little City clinic, the concept of a “value-based approach” has taken on a second, equally important meaning.

“A lot of patients used to be anxious, if not plain scared of a trip to the dentist. It was a day-long trip for a lot

of them,” said Ellen Anderson, a dental hygienist at Aunt Martha’s Little City clinic. “There’s nothing more rewarding than being welcomed into a patient’s home and being greeted with a smile. That tells us we’re doing something that brings value to their lives, that we’re making a difference.”

About Teledentistry

According to the American Dental Association’s Comprehensive Policy Statement on Teledentistry, Teledentistry refers to the use of telehealth systems and methodologies in dentistry. It can include patient care and education delivery using, but not limited to, the following modalities:

  • Live video (synchronous): Live, two-way interaction between individuals (e.g., patients, caregivers, providers) via audiovisual communication
  • Store-and-forward (asynchronous): Secure electronic transmission of recorded health information (e.g., radiographs, photographs, video, digital impressions) to a practitioner, who then evaluates a patient’s condition or renders a service outside of a real-time or live
  • Remote patient monitoring: Personal health and medical data collected in one location is transmitted to a provider in a different location for use in care.
  • Mobile health: Health care and public health practice and education supported by mobile communication

Billing for Teledentistry

There are two CDT codes that can be used to bill for services provided in a teledental model. Always check with your insurance plans to verify they reimburse this service.

There are two CDT codes that can be used to bill for services provided in a teledental model. Always check with your insurance plans to verify they reimburse this service.

  • D9995 teledentistry – synchronous; real-time Reported in addition to other procedures (e.g. diagnostic) delivered to the patient on the date of service.
  • 9996 teledentistry – asynchronous; information stored and forwarded to dentist for subsequent Reported in addition to other procedures (e.g. diagnostic) delivered to the patient on the date of service.

To learn more about Aunt Martha’s teledentistry program, contact Dr. Ghassan Souri at ghsouri@auntmarthas.org.

Source: HSN Newsletter