Dr Christine May’s teledentistry platform, ViDe, has the potential to be utilised right across Australia—and the rest of the world. By Kerryn Ramsey
It’s funny how things can just work out. Dr Christine May was in Bathurst, a town in the Central Tablelands of NSW, when she dropped into Moodie’s Pharmacy on Howick St. The pharmacy is the oldest in Bathurst, providing health services to the community since 1896. What struck Dr May was the progressive nature of the pharmacy with its range of clinic rooms set up for healthcare providers.
Dr May realised that Moodie’s Pharmacy offered a golden opportunity. As the founder of the teledentistry platform ViDe, she was looking for a venue to launch the service.
“It was really fortuitous that I just happened to walk into Moodie’s and they had spaces available,” says Dr May. “They embraced ViDe immediately and Krysti-Lee Rigby, the head pharmacist, has made it her passion project.”
The public utilisation of ViDe gradually increased in Moodie’s and the platform was then placed in their Forbes and Orange pharmacies. By February 2020, ViDe was available in 12 more pharmacies across the state.
“It’s early days but we’re picking up momentum,” says Dr May.
Dr May is an early adopter in the field of teledentistry—and the Australian Dental Association (ADA) has moved quickly to stay abreast of advancing technology. “The ADA sees the emerging field of teledentistry as one to be monitored, recognising the rapidly evolving nature of technology in healthcare,” says Dr Stephen Liew, vice-chair of the ADA’s Dental Informatics and Digital Health Committee. “As such, we have established a policy position and will continue to refine this over time.”
The policy position states, in part, ”Teledentistry and teleradiology are emerging telecommunication methods of dental service delivery which require monitoring as they develop. The technology required is not complex, chiefly consisting of imaging devices, a high definition display, a transmitting device and an internet connection capable of smooth real-time audio and video communication.”
Dr May has also been involved in discussions with the ADA on teledentistry policy after presenting at the ADA Congress in Adelaide last May. “The ADA has indicated they’ll be introducing item codes specifically for teledentistry in the next Fee Schedule update,” she says. “This is a huge step towards resolving the grey area around getting teledentistry service fee rebates under private health insurance.”
The way forward
Dr May, who graduated in dentistry at the University of Sydney in 2001, has worked all over Australia and met people from a wide variety of demographics. However, after 15 years working, she was looking for a new challenge.
Her inspiration came partly from her passion for dentistry in rural and remote Australia. Access to dental care can be extremely difficult in these areas and she saw the value of virtual dentistry.
“I became interested in the startup community and realised that the tech now exists to do virtual dental consults,” says Dr May. “It was already happening in other health modalities and there’s been a number of studies done on teledentistry, particularly by Marc Tennant, Estie Kruger and Mohamed Estai out of the University of Western Australia. So, I started putting together my teledentistry platform, ViDe.”
According to their 2016 study, Role of telemedicine and mid-level dental providers in expanding dental-care access: potential application in rural Australia , they looked at how telemedicine not only provides access to patients, it also offers support, consultations and access to continuing education for dental practitioners in rural areas. “This strategy has the potential to free up resources to increase care access and reduce oral health disparities, thereby contributing to closing the rural-urban oral health gap,” the report states.
After extensive research of the telehealth and teledentistry literature and review of overseas models, Dr May could see how virtual dentistry could be utilised in not just rural areas, but for the likes of people in aged care or with special needs. She could also see the potential for patients who experience dental fear or phobia and even busy patients who want a quicker service.
“We need to build more flexibility into our profession,” she says. “I’m passionate about helping to connect people with better health outcomes.”
The ADA also sees teledentistry as a benefit to people where there are barriers to direct access to a dentist, particularly in remote and rural communities for follow-up assessment or where another health practitioner may need to know if a patient requires further or urgent treatment.
“However, the Australian Dental Association advises that such services only ever be provided by a dental practitioner who is registered with the Dental Board of Australia and who has prior knowledge and understanding of the patient’s dental health,” says Dr Liew. “While these benefits are significant, there is no substitute for an in-person examination which will always provide superior information to that of video or teleconference.”
What ViDe offers
Dr May’s new concept, ViDe, offers remote dental consultation for practitioners and patients. ViDe can be accessed online through the website (hellovide.com.au) or by attending one of the partner pharmacies. A consult is booked through the platform. The patient then takes guided selfie-style photos and answers a personal health questionnaire. The consulting dentist will review all the information and take part in a video consult with the patient.
If a patient is in pain or has an infection, the ViDe dentist can write a script and email that directly to a pharmacy anywhere in Australia. The patient can be referred for diagnostic services such as radiographs or a sleep test. A written report will be generated about the state of the patient’s current oral health, suggested next steps, fact sheets and resources to help them with treatment choices they need to make.
The ViDe consultation can provide payment plan options and give an indicative treatment plan estimate. They can help refer to the most appropriate dental practitioner or direct the patient to a specialist if required.
“ViDe is a dental triage service,” says Dr May. “It aims to demystify the process and to create transparency and simplicity around oral health issues. Traditionally, the patient doesn’t know what needs to be done, how much it’s going to cost or how long it’s going to take until they are sitting in the chair. We provide all that information upfront.”
Dentistry and helping some of the more vulnerable members of the community is in Dr Christine May’s blood. Her father, Dr Michael May, also a dentist, has been working in Sydney’s suburb of Forestville for the past 40 years. His daughter worked with him from 2004 to 2007, where she gained experience in family and special needs dentistry.
Nowadays, Dr Michael May can see the advantages of a teledentistry platform such as ViDe. He says, “Teledentistry will certainly play a large role in the future delivery of dental care. The ability to triage a patient and educate them will allow for more efficient scheduling of clinical services, especially for remote and time poor patients.”
Expanding the platform
One common question Dr May gets from patients is, ‘How can you tell what’s going on with my teeth without physically looking inside my mouth?’
“There’s a little bit of education that has to happen,” says Dr May. “We explain that by using selfie photos and asking questions, we can get a very clear indication of the situation. That’s not to say that it’s signed, sealed and delivered. It’s definitely up to the dentist who’s eventually seen to verify or make other alternatives. This process is supported by clinical studies.”
At present, Dr May has no shortage of dentists interested in joining the platform. Many are excited about reaching out to people in the bush. There are also many dentists in cities with appointment gaps. ViDe allows them to monetise that lost time.
“Right now, 50 per cent of dentists are female and most of them are the primary caregivers for their family,” says Dr May. “They’re looking for more flexibility in their work-life balance. Additionally, a significant number of dentists are approaching retirement. They may not want to work on the tools but they have this huge amount of knowledge that could be harnessed while extending their careers. ViDe is a perfect alternative for these dentists.”
The long game
ViDe is not designed to replace the traditional dentist. The platform just makes it easier for people to get there. Patients can arrive at the practice better informed. The process becomes a less stressful, more satisfying encounter with better outcomes for everybody involved. “Ultimately, I’d love to have as many dentists in Australia on the platform as possible,” says Dr May. “I’d like to see a large proportion of the community using it. We’re already going into pharmacies. I also want to go into aged-care facilities, become part of workplace wellness programs and be utilised in school screenings and special needs screenings.
“After that, I’d like to go global … I want to take ViDe to the world.”