Should You Hire a Virtual Dental Hygienist?

Posted by Shawn M. Johnson, ChFC®, CLU®, CLTC on Aug 11, 2021 9:00:00 AM

The idea of hiring a virtual dental hygienist might seem odd, but it's a big part of how dental practices are able to do more.

Especially during the pandemic, when people weren't able to go to their dentist as easily, these virtual hygienist options gave patients the opportunity to ask a professional if they needed to see their dentist or if they could wait. 

This is an emerging job, and one that wasn't available even a few short years ago. But times change, and industries must change along with them. Now, the emerging job of virtual dental hygienist is something many dental practices will want to consider. 

It’s important to note that you should check with your malpractice insurer before you start looking for a virtual hygienist. Your other business insurance policies may also be relevant when hiring a virtual dental hygienist, so you should review with your licensed insurance advisor. 

These types of hygienists may not be right for every patient, or for every practice, but they have a lot of value under the right circumstances.

Because of that, it's worth considering whether your practice should have someone like this on staff -- or at least on call -- to address issues that come up. If you have virtual help, you may be more prepared for what the future of your practice holds, as well.


What Is a Virtual Dental Hygienist?

A virtual dental hygienist is trained in visual inspections of teeth via video call. That person can then determine whether the patient should come to see a dentist in person, or whether that's not necessary. While it's not possible to see the teeth as thoroughly on a video call as it would be in person, it's still one way to get an idea of whether a dental visit should be scheduled or whether it can be put off for a bit longer. 

With the rise in telehealth services, especially during the pandemic when people were instructed to stay home as much as possible, virtual dental hygienists became much more important in helping patients.

Determining care needs isn't as easy for someone without experience, so it might not be good for a patient to make their own judgment on a potential dental problem. But if they can't get in to see their dentist, what are they to do? 

They need options, and one of those options is to work with a virtual hygienist who can give them the information they need for their condition and advice on whether they should make an appointment. They may even have an emergency or urgent situation and need to get into a dentist's office quickly. With a virtual visit that can be determined, so the right help will be available.

How Do They Help Practices?

Virtual dental hygienists help practices in a couple of ways. 

First, they make sure that patients get some of the basic help and support they need, even if they aren't there in person. Patients can ask questions and get advice from a professional, so they have the ability to make an informed decision on what they should do. 

Even if they choose not to make an in-person appointment, they'll know what a professional hygienist recommends. Not only can that help patients with their health, but these professionals can also help patients with the feelings they have about the care they're getting and the value their dentist places on their patients.

Another way that a virtual dental hygienist can help a dental practice is by showing that the practice is up to date with the kind of technology needed in today's medical field and the ways in which patients can interact with their medical providers. A dentist who seems to be behind the times is one that a lot of patients may not care to go to, because they may not feel good about the standard of care. They may also be concerned about the dentist's willingness to explore new ideas or try new treatment options. Even though that's not specifically tied to telehealth opportunities like a virtual hygienist, it's important to keep patients' feelings in mind.

Can Virtual Dental Hygienists Also Work in the Practice?

A virtual hygienist is a licensed dental hygienist, just like those who work with patients on an in-person basis. There's no reason why they can't work in the practice as well as through video calls. 

In a lot of cases, these hygienists are remote or scattered around the country. In other cases, they're a part of the practice and working from home. Being trained to assess through video call is a specialized skill, though, and needs to be something the hygienist is specifically prepared to handle.

Any dental practice that's going to employ a virtual hygienist may take a careful look at their patient count, how many people routinely reach out to them, and how many of those people actually need dental care that can't wait --- or at least can't wait very long. 

If there's a definite, established need for a virtual hygienist, a practice may get training for a hygienist they already have or contract with one who's located remotely. Either way, the goal is to make sure the patient gets the quality dental care they deserve.

How to Hire the Right People

Hiring a virtual dental hygienist can be an important step for any practice. Even when pandemic issues aren't a consideration, there are a lot of people who would appreciate the opportunity to use a video call to get a professional opinion on seeing their dentist. 

When you use our HR guide, you can get information on choosing the right people for your dental practice. That includes anyone who's going to be working virtually, in order to make sure that person is providing the appropriate level of patient care.

Patients will want a knowledgeable professional to answer their questions and give them sound advice. A virtual dental hygienist can do that while helping your practice be more receptive to the needs of your patients on an ongoing basis. That can give patients more confidence in your practice, as well as more peace of mind.

Dentist People Management

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Treloar & Heisel, Inc. does not offer legal or human resources advice. This content is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as advice.


Topics: Dental Practice Business Tips