After 2 years of postponing routine care and ignoring low-level issues, patients are finally, cautiously, returning to the chair. But they’re nervous. The dental hygienist seems rushed, the PPE looks extraterrestrial, and the dentist is pointing to an opaque x-ray where one gradient is innocuous, but another requires drilling.
Dentists need their patients' confidence and trust to treat a host of pathologies that cropped up during a pandemic period of lapsed care. But a recent survey shows a communication gap undermining that relationship and threatening effective clinical care––one that technology can close.
To better gauge how patients experience dental care and how technology can play a role in building trust with providers, the dental AI company Pearl surveyed almost 600 dental patients in the United States. The complete Dental Patient Trust & Technology Survey is available for download here, but this is a sampling of what they found:
Patients don’t understand their radiographs
When dentists explain their diagnoses, they often call up the day’s scans and historical imaging to show evidence of the pathology and its progression. But even with a detailed explanation, a large majority of patients–65%–don’t completely understand what their dentist points out in their radiographs.
And because people believe what they see—and don’t see—that lack of understanding can sew confusion at best and mistrust at worst. Fifty-nine percent of survey respondents said they don’t entirely trust their dentists’ x-ray diagnoses.
When patients don’t trust their dentists, they look elsewhere
A majority of respondents also said that trust in their diagnosis was the most critical factor when deciding to proceed with treatment. Considering that nearly two thirds of respondents indicated some level of distrust in their radiologic diagnoses, it is hardly surprising, then, that a similar percentage (61%) said that distrust in a diagnosis had prompted them to take one or more forms of drastic action, ranging from delaying treatment to switching providers.
Notably, 19% said they had refused treatment outright, 25% said they had sought out a second opinion and, most troubling, 32% said that their distrust led them to switch providers. This should be no surprise. Dental diagnoses are famously varied from one provider to the next.
Taken together, this represents a significant financial risk to dental offices and DSOs.
Technology puts patients at ease
Artificial intelligence (AI) has made great strides toward mainstream adoption over the past 2 years. That has partly to do with its ubiquity. Algorithms optimize our daily commutes (for those who still have them), compile our playlists, schedule our meetings, and improve our email correspondence. In fact, a recent study from the University of Georgia suggests that people may trust computers more than people, particularly when a task seems complicated—much like reading a radiograph seems to a patient.
Pearl’s study found that patients are comforted when dental offices employ cutting-edge technology. Eighty-seven percent of the patients surveyed said it was important that dentists use the most up-to-date technology, and 77% said that technology would influence their choice of provider.
AI diagnostic aids do just that while filling a crucial gap in understanding and trust among patients. Diagnostic aids like Pearl’s Second Opinion lend credibility to the dentist’s diagnosis because patients consider these applications impartial and trustworthy. The survey validated that point: more than two thirds (71%) of respondents agreed that they would be more likely to trust their dentist’s diagnosis if the dentist were using AI software to assist in x-ray evaluation.
Secondly, visual aids help focus patients on the radiograph images that show decay, caries, and other pathologies, helping them to understand precisely where they should be looking and what they see.
Finally, these new tools can bolster dentist credibility by improving consistency of care across DSOs and the industry at large.
By eliminating the perception that dentists’ diagnoses are mere “opinion,” dentists can become more authoritative, trustworthy, and effective clinicians for their patients.
Read the complete study: Dental Patient Trust & Technology Survey