According to a new survey commissioned by Align Technology, a global medical device company and pioneers of the Invisalign system, nearly 88% of residents in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia (KSA) value the benefits of digital communication and teledentistry now more than they did pre-COVID-19.The results of the survey on patient responses to the pandemic were unveiled as part of a wider whitepaper report showcasing the findings of an expert-led advisory council, following an analysis into trends and challenges for the dental sector.
The YouGov survey revealed that 78% of respondents will continue to use online communication with their dentists for non-emergency cases in the future. While only one-third (32%) of the respondents used digital communication tools to interact with their dentists during the COVID-19 lockdown, a majority (78%) of those who did said they found digital tools convenient.
The research indicates an almost even split in sentiment around the safety of visiting a dental appointment during the pandemic: 44% of respondents visited a dentist between March to June 2020, compared to the 42% who opted not to attend appointments due to concerns around potential risks. Despite this, consumer trust in dental practitioners remained high, with 80% trusting that their dental practitioner/dental practices were taking the necessary precautions to safeguard patients amid the pandemic.
According to the research, early lockdown measures that prevented dental visits appear to have had a positive impact on awareness around the role of lifestyle habits in supporting good oral health. A total of 75% of respondents said they were willing to adopt preventive measures to keep dental health in check such as drinking water instead of sugary drinks, brushing their teeth twice daily and changing their toothbrush regularly.
To further explore the key learnings from this crisis for the sector, Align Technology established an Advisory Council bringing together leading orthodontists from the region to initiate a dialogue around the impact of the pandemic. The Council’s main task was to analyse on-ground challenges as a result of the pandemic and explore measures which could be taken to enable practitioners to be future-ready in line with the aspirations of today’s digitally-focused consumers, as well as in the “new normal”.
During a series of interviews and virtual roundtable sessions, the participating experts explored four key themes: the importance of flexibility and adaptability, the role of teledentistry and digital workflow, business continuity planning and delivering quality dental care and improving patient confidence.
The Council found that practitioners who implemented virtual platforms were much more likely to be able to maintain business continuity during the pandemic, compared to those who were yet to embrace digitisation.
The key takeaways and recommendations from the Advisory Council included:
- Value of adaptability: A call for greater flexibility and adaptability throughout the dental industry, and to safeguard the ability to deliver the best possible care to patients and futureproof the industry. The council found that practitioners who implemented virtual platforms were much more likely to be able to maintain business continuity during the pandemic, compared to those who had yet to embrace digitisation.
- Shift in mindset at an industry level: The need for the dental industry to come together to instil a shift in mindset in line with the aspirations of today’s digitally- focused consumer.
- Integration of a digital ecosystem: The need for dental practitioners to incorporate a digital ecosystem to complement their practice workflow and make processes more efficient and convenient for both doctors and patients. The key is to have a workflow in place that allows practitioners to navigate between offline and online treatments seamlessly and efficiently.
Angelo Maura, general manager, Middle East and Africa of Align Technology, said: “Long before the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically changed how we work and live, we understood the potential of information technology and digital tools to transform the dental sector. Commissioning this research and establishing the Advisory Council committee of local experts highlights our collective commitment to better understand how we can integrate a seamless blend of digital technology into our practices to make processes more efficient and convenient for doctors and patients alike. We firmly believe that nothing replaces the personal touch of a medical or dental professional. Nevertheless, we want to help dental health practitioners to understand how they can leverage the power of digitisation to transform their practices, whilst continuing to deliver exceptional care for patients in this rapidly-changing landscape.”
The results of the whitepaper titled, ‘Digitisation and Patient Care: Mapping New Opportunities in the Dental Sector’ was launched by Align Technology at the second Digital Health MENA Forum, a high-profile event that brings together senior stakeholders and thought leaders in the healthcare ecosystem from public and private sector entities.
Align Technology presented findings from the study during a presentation titled ‘Telehealth virtual visits: Improving experiences, efficiency and outcome’ at the conference, and hosted a discussion on telehealth and telemedicine.