On January 1, 2015, California will become the first state to implement teledentistry into its state Medicaid program, Medi-Cal. The program aims to increase services for patients with little or no access to dental care. With teledentistry, dental assistants and hygienists can share health records and consult with a dentist remotely in order to perform basic treatments for patients, like temporary fillings and taking X-rays. Overall, teledentistry will expand their scope of practice, while offering Medi-Cal reimbursements.
The president of the California Dental Association, James Stephens, supports the teledentistry initiative:
“It’s a way of getting people who are outside the system into the system. Preventive care costs so much less.”
Even though the program will cost about $500,000 per year, it is estimated that it will reach 50 percent of California residents who are eligible for Medi-Cal dental services but do not receive any care.
Pediatric patients are also expected to reap the benefits of this program. According to Wendy Lazarus, the founder and co-president of The Children’s Partnership:
“This is a huge victory for California’s children and children across the nation,” adding, “By combining workforce innovations with advances in technology, California is now one step closer to closing the dental care gap kids face and reducing the number of children who miss school or are distracted by pain resulting from the number one chronic health problem among children — dental disease.”
The drive to deliver health services to underserved populations and expand the practice of health professionals has spread throughout the United States. Other states, such as West Virginia, Hawaii, Oregon, and Colorado may also implement teledentistry programs in 2015.