Dental Provider Alert: ADA Requests FCC to Support Teledentistry

Since the declaration of a national public health emergency, oral health providers have postponed most non-emergent care, whether as required by state-issued directives, or as recommended by the Interim Guidance for Minimizing Risk of COVID-19 Transmission from the American Dental Association (“ADA”).  A recent ADA survey found that 80% of dentists are only seeing emergency patients at this time.  Teledentistry provides an avenue for dentists to furnish a variety of important oral health services without the necessity of an in-person visit, yet many dentists face financial challenges in implementing a telehealth platform. 

Pursuant to the CARES Act, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) COVID-19 Telehealth Program (“Program”) provides $200 million in funding to assist health care providers in delivering services via telehealth.  The Program provides immediate support for eligible providers by funding their telecommunications and information services, as well as the necessary devices, to provide telehealth services.  Providers approved for funding must submit an invoicing form and supporting documentation to receive reimbursement for the applicable expenses and services. Applicants who receive Program disbursements will be required to comply with all Program rules and requirements, including applicable reporting requirements, and may be subject to compliance audits.

Because the current categories of health care providers eligible to receive Program funding excludes dentists engaged in private practice, the ADA recently requested that the FCC exercise its discretion to extend the Program to all dental practices.  In its letter to the FCC of April 27, 2020, the ADA acknowledged that “video conference is an especially effective way to screen dental emergencies.”  The ADA has also acknowledged the usefulness of telehealth as a tool for preparing to see patients in brick-and-mortar dental offices, urging all dentists to “make every effort to interview the patient by telephone, text monitoring system, or video conference before the visit” to ensure proper safety protocols.  However, without financial assistance, many dentists cannot afford the costs associated with teledentistry, such as upgrading office computer systems, obtaining the necessary software, and purchasing additional equipment, such as digital cameras, to conduct virtual encounters.  Access to FCC funds would enable more dentists to implement telehealth platforms for the provision of oral health care, which is widely regarded as integral to one’s overall well-being.  As of the date of this Provider Alert, the FCC has yet to publicly comment or respond to the ADA’s letter. 

Action Items for Oral Health Providers:

  • Voice your support for the FCC to specifically include all dentists among the providers eligible for FCC funding to support teledentistry.
  • Monitor state-level developments and professional board guidance regarding the reopening of your brick-and-mortar dental office for non-emergent oral health care. See also: the ADA’s Return to Work Interim Guidance Toolkit.
  • Seek competent healthcare counsel to implement a compliant teledentistry platform. The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated the power of telehealth, and it is likely to remain a viable tool for the delivery of oral health care in the future, even as restrictions on travel are lifted.

For more information, contact Frier Levitt to speak with an attorney.

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