Dentists Are Struggling with Burnout, Too — But AI Solutions Can Help

Research shows the pandemic has left many dentists struggling with their mental health.


A scant silver lining to the pandemic has been increased awareness of healthcare worker burnout across every specialty. This is not a new issue; well before the pandemic, some 54% of clinicians were reporting exhaustion, decreased motivation, more cynical attitudes towards patients and even catastrophic errors — all resulting from emotional and physical burnout.

Research shows the pandemic has left many dentists struggling with their mental health. Their struggles may not be as bluntly obvious; for one thing, most hospital ERs do not have dentists on staff. However, dentists are showing the same symptoms of burnout as other healthcare professionals, and for many of the same reasons.

One of the chief contributors to dentist burnout is the excessive burden of clerical and administrative tasks. Insurance claims and processes in particular can be convoluted, unclear and subject to change, causing dentists (like clinicians) to spend extraordinary amounts of time on paperwork. Scheduling, internal administrative tasks and even diagnoses present an exhausting load of decision-making for dentists, to the detriment of their emotional well-being and, in many cases, both their practices' and personal financial health.

Dentists' Struggles During COVID-19

By virtue of their face-to-face work on people's teeth and gums, dentists are in fact constantly and dangerously exposed to coronavirus — particularly as their patients must, by necessity, remain unmasked during examinations and procedures. Hit hard by the initial waves of the pandemic, when regular patients forwent their bi-annual checkups due to fears about coronavirus, many dentists found themselves struggling financially.

When patients began returning en masse to the dentist, the reductions in staff from leaner times left many dental practices scrambling to rehire dental hygienists and assistants who are necessary to functional workflow. This, in turn, has created backlogs of administrative tasks; the result is that the impacts of the pandemic continue to exacerbate problems that contribute to burnout.

Using AI Solutions to Streamline Workflow

Robust technological solutions are being leveraged to address the burnout crisis affecting other clinicians — and dentist burnout, too, can be mitigated at least in part by the application of digital tools. If you're a dentist who is considering adopting AI tools in your practice, here is how to incorporate them into your workflow and, in doing so, diminish the potency of some of burnout's biggest contributors:

1. Simplify the Process of Billing Clients

With every patient subscribing to a different insurance plan, each with a different level of coverage, you and your team can get stuck going to a dozen different locations hunting for each client's unique billing information. Use an AI tool to improve that workflow by logging into patients' insurance portals for you, smartly recognizing different payers and plans, and consolidating a report on all of this information. That way, you can more easily and accurately bill clients for services, knowing what the client is responsible for, and what is covered by insurance. Going forward, expect your data to auto-populate, allowing you to save time and avoid a lot of redundant hunting through insurance company portals.

2. Eliminate Costly Human Errors

It goes without saying that in addition to being tedious and time-consuming, and depriving dentists of time spent with patients, the process of searching out correct billing codes (particularly when they've just changed over for the next year) and payer-specific coverage rules presents a minefield of potential human errors. Relegate these tasks to your AI solution to alleviate the potential for a litany of mistakes, saving dentists (and their patients) significant amounts of time and money.

3. Streamline Diagnostic Processes

You can use AI to review dental imaging, cross-reference with patient histories, and — based on the results — automate a preset plan of care. This diminishes the odds of human error in diagnosis, and also mitigates decision fatigue. Streamlining the chain between evaluation, diagnosis, and recommended procedures also delivers more consistency to patients than a situation wherein multiple dentists review the same image (and, potentially, draw different conclusions.)

4. Ensure All Patient Visits Have Value

Unnecessary appointments waste both dentists' and patients' time, and — particularly during the pandemic — present unnecessary health risks. Yet, it's also important for patients to go in when something is wrong, or when they're due for a checkup. Your AI solution can ensure that patients are coming in for the right number of dental or orthodontic visits, with the correct amount of time in between visits — and, once there, optimize their appointments with the dentist for maximum efficiency.

5. Keep Your Practice in Good Financial Health

At the end of the day, you need to look at your bottom line. Dental practices lose money from a dearth of up-to-date, correct data about everything from billing information to insurance coverage, patient health histories and diagnostic best practices. AI and machine learning can mitigate many of these problems by surfacing data and insights faster and more efficiently than a human can. And the ROI on solid AI for dental practices is between four and ten times.

Dentists Deserve Robust Technological Solutions, Too

Inefficient workflow and tedious "administrivia" are by no means the only concerns facing dentists, particularly during COVID-19 — and indeed, a national conversation about the problems unique to dental practices operating during the pandemic is long overdue. But in the meantime, by alleviating some of the foremost causes of burnout, dental practices can turn to their AI solutions to significantly improve work-life balance and even the bottom line.

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