June 1, 2020

School of Dentistry to expand use of remote patient visits

The University of Washington School of Dentistry has announced the full launch of its Virtual Clinic to serve patients remotely.

The clinic, which was created to support the school’s Dental Urgent Care Clinic during the COVID-19 outbreak, will see its use expanded in stages across all of the school’s clinical services.

Jacqueline Wong at the computer

Dr. Jacqueline Wong of the School of Dentistry’s Department of Oral Medicine screens a patient remotely.

“Initially, we considered teledentistry as a safer way to conduct patient screenings for urgent care during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dean Gary Chiodo. “However, it is clear to us that this technology can play an important role in making delivery of all clinical care safer, more efficient, and more effective.”

The Virtual Clinic connects patients with dental providers by video or, if the patient lacks video access, by telephone. The video link is secure and complies with patient privacy laws, and visits are not recorded or stored.

To assist the dentist, the clinic recommends that patients have a few readily available items with them for the virtual visit: a flashlight, a large spoon, and a disposable mouth mirror, which can be obtained at a drugstore. Patients must also complete several forms, including a health history and a consent for teledentistry, which can be done online.

The clinic was set up by Dr. Jacqueline Wong of the school’s Department of Oral Medicine faculty, who will direct the clinic’s operations, and Dr. Mihwa Kim, the school’s director of clinical operations.

“Reducing the need for in-person contact during the initial screening does add another layer of safety,” Dean Chiodo said. “At the same time, we can usually assess the patient’s condition with enough detail to let us work out a preliminary treatment plan. In some cases, a patient can be medically managed after the assessment, and there may be no need for an in-person clinic visit.”

The school has not set a date for full implementation of the Virtual Clinic for patient care in all departments, but will begin with Pediatrics, Oral Surgery, and the dental student clinic in addition to its current support in the Dental Urgent Care Clinic and Oral Medicine clinic. On May 18, the school began restoring regular clinical services, a process which will take several weeks. In March, following state rules and American Dental Association recommendations, the school suspended all but urgent care.

“We expect the Virtual Clinic to closely mirror our timeline as we ramp back up to our complete range of clinical care,” Dean Chiodo said. “This is a very exciting and forward-thinking initiative for dentistry, and I cannot think of anyone more qualified to lead it than Drs. Kim and Wong.”