A virtual oral health care help line was established to provide consultation and triage
for people with dental questions and concerns. Its goal during a pandemic was to keep
patients from seeking unnecessary in-person care from emergency departments and urgent
care clinics, especially when dental practices were closed or limited to providing
essential urgent and emergency oral health care.
The Adams School of Dentistry, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, developed
the Carolina Dentistry Virtual Oral Health Care Helpline using a quality improvement
framework with faculty and staff member feedback. The process included establishing
infrastructure (phone, video, protocols, referrals, documentation), personnel (scheduling,
training, calibration), and internal and external communication. The authors collected
retrospective information for descriptive evaluation of the first month’s operations.
There were 337 telephone calls answered, of which 65 (19%) were administrative and
272 (81%) were related to dental concerns. Dental pain (54%) was the most prevalent
reason for calling. Triage and Providers referred 107 of 175 callers (61%) to the
school’s urgent care center. Of the 79 callers who received teleconsultations from
virtual providers, 33 (42%) did not require additional follow-up, and 7 (9%) needed
a follow-up phone call. Overall, 4 people were referred to community clinics, and
4 were referred to the emergency department.
The Helpline was launched quickly and improved through quality improvement cycles,
and it provided a needed community dental service. The process resolved some patient
concerns without their seeking urgent or emergency care.
The pandemic has increased teledentistry practice. The authors describe establishing
a dental school’s virtual oral health Helpline, which provides a framework for dental
practices seeking to use this patient communication modality.