The more information the better: Have the patient upload quality photos and make a list of specific questions that can be answered before the visit so that you are well informed and can make the best diagnosis.
One of the consequences of the pandemic is the dramatic growth of Telehealth and Telemedicine. But how can doctors and providers best care for their patients when they are not physically in front of them? What do doctors wish patients knew in order to make sure they are getting the best results even though they are not actually in the office? How can Telehealth approximate and even improve upon the healthcare that traditional doctors’ visits can provide?
In this interview series, called “Telehealth Best Practices; How To Best Care For Your Patients When They Are Not Physically In Front Of You” we are talking to successful Doctors, Dentists, Psychotherapists, Counselors, and other medical and wellness professionals who share lessons and stories from their experience about the best practices in Telehealth. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Brian Harris, also known as “The Virtual Dentist”, is recognized as one of the nation’s top cosmetic dentists. However, if you were to ask him what he does for a living, he will tell you that he is a Confidence Builder. People fly to Phoenix, AZ from all over the globe to transform their smiles because of his personalized approach to cosmetic dentistry. Using his Smile Virtual software platform and his Smile Test Drive process, he allows patients to test out their new look before they commit to anything permanent.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
It’s a simple story really…. dentistry was all I ever knew. My father is a dentist, my older brother is a dentist, my younger brother is a dentist, my youngest brother is a dental lab tech and my father in law is also a dentist. It was inevitable. I always knew that I would be a dentist, but I also knew I was meant to be a part of something much bigger than that.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I have experienced some pretty amazing things in my career, but hands down some of my best memories have been doing dentistry in remote villages of the Dominican Republic and Guatemala with my wife and 4 kids. So many great memories created with my family and the people we served.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of my all-time favorite quotes is from James Lovell. He says: “There are people that make things happen, there are people that watch things happen, and there are people that wonder what happened. To be successful, you need to be a person that makes things happen.” I think there is so much truth to this quote. I believe people can achieve great things but you must put in the work, you must move, and you have to make things happen.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My wife, Maury. She has always been my biggest support system and encouraged me to chase my dreams even when it made things more stressful on her at home. She helps me to stay focused on the things that are most important in life. A few years back, I was already maxed out with my time when a couple of good business opportunities presented themselves. She told me something one night when we were talking about it that really stuck with me, she said: “Brian, you can be great at anything but just not everything. Pick the things you are most excited about and just focus on those things. If you try to do it all you will never reach your full potential”
I am also grateful for my co-founder and business partner Jenn Rhoades. She has been a massive support for me and has been the driving force behind the Smile Virtual software creation. I would not be in the place I am in now without her support along the way.
Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The pandemic has changed so many things about the way we behave. One of them of course, is how doctors treat their patients. Many doctors have started treating their patients remotely. Telehealth can of course be very different than working with a patient that is in front of you. This provides great opportunity because it allows more people access to medical professionals, but it can also create unique challenges. To begin, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main benefits of having a patient in front of you?
I believe that getting in front of more patients is the key to success as a healthcare provider. When you look at the traditional way of practicing medicine, there is so much wasted time for both the Doctor and the patient. At the end of the day, I believe that all patients want to know these three things: Can you help me? What are my options? How much is it going to cost?
When you stop and think about it for a minute, we as healthcare professionals make it so difficult for people to get those three questions answered. We make them drive across town, get a babysitter or take time off work, fill out 20 minutes of paperwork and sit through an hour-long exam just to get their questions answered.
Mark Cuban put it best when he said, “Make your product easier to buy than your competition or you will find your customers buying from THEM and not you.”
I think as healthcare professionals we need to make it easier for people to do business with us. I see tele-health being broken down into two different categories: Wants and Needs.
Wants: Answer their questions with a pre-recorded video.
These are all elective procedures including plastic surgery, Lasik eye surgery, smile makeovers, orthodontics, Botox/fillers and skin treatments. For these kinds of procedures, I believe the best kind of virtual consults are recorded and sent. Someone is interested in how the process works and what it costs and a healthcare provider records a video and sends it answering their questions from the comfort of their own home. This way, the patient can submit their questions and information when they have the time, and the provider can record a response and send it on their own time. It is the best way to help people while leveraging your time.
Needs: Answer their questions with a live video call.
Needs-based virtual consults are different as it is usually more of a two-way conversation. These consults are for those in pain or with an immediate concern or issue. The doctor will ask questions back and forth, and based on the responses, a diagnosis will be made. These consults are best done live so the doctor and patient can have a productive conversation around what the issues are, and then the doctor can give immediate support and advice.
On the flip side, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main challenges that arise when a patient is not in the same space as the doctor?
Believe it or not, some of the biggest challenges are organizational and technical challenges. Difficulty understanding the software, internet signal strength, and appointment scheduling and confirmation are the biggest ones that can complicate the process in having an effective conversation.
Another challenge is that virtually you are only able to see a fraction of the data you often need to treat a problem. Because you can’t see the area of concern three dimensionally and you can’t palpate or touch the area, your senses are limited. During a live consult you can see, touch and feel the area of concern and have more data to work with.
Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges? What are your “5 Things You Need To Know To Best Care For Your Patients When They Are Not Physically In Front Of You ? (Please share a story or example for each.)
The top 5 things you need to know if you are going to start offering virtual consults for your patients:
- The more information the better: Have the patient upload quality photos and make a list of specific questions that can be answered before the visit so that you are well informed and can make the best diagnosis.
- Make sure there is a strong internet connection: It is difficult to communicate when things are cutting in and out. This is one of the reasons recorded consults are preferred.
- Use a HIPAA compliant platform: It’s important that all data and communication is protected and secure.
4. Control the conversation and set expectations: If you don’t set expectations for how the consult is going to go, they will drag on for longer than needed.
5. Understand your limitations: There are certain scenarios where you need to see someone in person to treat them appropriately, it’s important to recognize these situations.
Can you share a few ways that Telehealth can create opportunities or benefits that traditional in-office visits cannot provide? Can you please share a story or give an example?
The biggest opportunity that telehealth creates is a level of comfort and trust that in-person consults usually don’t have. When people are not physically in front of you, they seem to be open to sharing more details with you and be less reserved about asking additional questions.
Let’s zoom in a bit. Many tools have been developed to help facilitate Telehealth. In your personal experiences which tools have been most effective in helping to replicate the benefits of being together in the same space?
There are many great tele-health platforms out there that can be utilized. Platforms like zoom and loom are great tools for video communication but they don’t offer the organizational benefits of telehealth specific platforms that can connect directly to your practice management software. In the dental space, Smile Virtual is the most respected platform for dental consults. (www.smilevirtual.com)
Are there things that you wish patients knew in order to make sure they are getting the best results even though they are not actually in the office?
Come to the appointment prepared with questions and be direct with the provider letting them know exactly what you want.
The technology is rapidly evolving and new tools like VR, AR, and Mixed Reality are being developed to help bring people together in a shared virtual space. Is there any technology coming down the pipeline that excites you?
The most exciting thing for me at this point is the use of AI to help diagnose and treat patients. We are currently developing the ability to give smile simulations and treatment option suggestions based on thousands of before and after cases being uploaded into the software. We are still a year away from launching that feature, but when it happens, it will be a massive advancement in the cosmetic dentistry space.
Is there a part of this future vision that concerns you? Can you explain?
The biggest concern I see is trying to automate too much of the process. AI and machine learning technology is going to revolutionize the way we do business, but at the end of the day, an experienced doctor would need to confirm these recommendations.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I believe that everyone deserves to have a confident smile and I believe that self-confidence impacts how we show up in both personal and professional relationships. My mission is to help connect patients looking to improve their smile with qualified doctors around the world. Quite literally making the world a happier place.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
The best place to find me is on Instagram @drbrianharris or at www.smilevirtual.com