Execute the treatment. Once treatment commences, leverage all the technology available to you to stay in regular communication with your patient, such as video chat. We’ve found video chat enables our Dental Team and doctors to get a quicker resolution for our patients whenever a question or concern arises.
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 interviewingDr. Jeffrey Sulitzer.
Jeffrey Sulitzer, DMD, is the Chief Clinical Officer of SmileDirectClub, the next generation oral care company that created the first telehealth platform for teeth straightening. Dr. Sulitzer is responsible for the clinical leadership of the organization’s network of more than 250 licensed dentists and orthodontists, to ensure all patients receive the best treatment. Since joining SmileDirectClub in 2017, he has been a key part of enhancing and innovating its operations. Prior to joining SmileDIrectClub, Dr. Sulitzer treated patients at his own dental practices for nearly three decades while also holding leadership roles at various companies in the dental industry, including Aetna and BlueCross BlueShield.
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?
From a young age, my father encouraged me to pursue a career in the health and medical field. I was a really strong student in science, and as I grew up, I became increasingly drawn to the healing arts. It’s a really incredible thing to be able to take people out of pain. After I graduated from Temple University School of Dentistry and Muhlenberg College, I owned and managed my own brick and mortar dental practices for nearly 19 years while holding leadership positions in companies focused on managed care and dental insurance. There is a common thread throughout my career: I’ve worked for companies embracing new, innovative solutions that make high-quality care more affordable. I didn’t get into dentistry to help the few — I want to help as many people as possible. That’s what I love about what I do now at SmileDirectClub. Our unique telehealth model makes teeth straightening convenient, accessible and affordable for everyone.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
There isn’t one moment that stands out among the rest, but throughout my career I’ve been fascinated by witnessing people changing their minds. You can physically see it. At first, as with anything new, people can be skeptical. As they learn more and become educated, they make more eye contact, and their body language opens up. It’s really inspiring to see a room of skeptics transform right in front of you.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Success is not final; failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.” — Winston S. Churchill
Throughout my career and my life, I’ve found it is imperative to keep learning and advancing, especially as a clinician.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. 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 high school biology teacher — Richard Gregor. I appreciated his teaching style. He was very direct. I took that as a challenge. He taught anatomy and physiology, and what I learned about the human body in his classroom has stuck with me. I have always marveled in the ability of the human body and how it reacts its surroundings and how it functions throughout a lifetime.
Ok wonderful. 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?
As a telehealth pioneer, we have always believed that virtual connections are as effective as those in-person. I think we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of the potential of telehealth — the possibilities are endless. We just need to develop the right technology.
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?
As I mentioned, we don’t see it that way. Currently, dentists and orthodontists may use telehealth for diagnostics, screenings, and education. SmileDirectClub is a teledentistry pioneer because we created a way to actually provide treatment through our platform, in addition to screenings, diagnosis and education. There are hundreds of other treatment opportunities via teledentistry that we’ll see surface in the years to come.
It’s all about developing the right technology and utilizing it to your advantage. In the meantime, until we have the ability to perform certain procedures via telehealth, like oral surgery, chair time is still required.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. 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.)
- Gather Information: This is no different than when providing in-person care. You need to understand what the patient is seeking and why, along with their health history and any relevant photos, 3D images, or videos.
- Evaluate their current clinical condition: Review the information gathered and use your clinical expertise to make an assessment about your patient’s condition. In some instances, you might find you need more information before you can make an assessment. IN which case, you can request more information via the telehealth platform.
- Create the treatment plan: Every patient is unique, so it’s imperative to develop an individualized treatment plan that addresses the patient’s chief complaint and personal/clinical needs.
- Engage the patient in process: I’ve found the best way to get the patient’s desired outcomes is to be patient centric. Share the detailed treatment plan with the patient via a telehealth platform, show the planned outcomes and confirm your plan is consistent with what they had hoped to achieve.
- Execute the treatment. Once treatment commences, leverage all the technology available to you to stay in regular communication with your patient, such as video chat. We’ve found video chat enables our Dental Team and doctors to get a quicker resolution for our patients whenever a question or concern arises.
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?
Telehealth increases access to care, especially in areas where health or dental professionals are located miles and miles away. For example, more than 49 million Americans live in places that are dentally underserved, according to the National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health. According to the Health Resources and Service Administration and the Kaiser Family Foundation, approximately 5,000 areas in the United States are designated as Dental Health Professional Shortage Areas (DHPSAs) based on a population to provider ratio of 5,000 to 1 and 4,000 to 1 in geographic and geographic high need areas. Telehealth empowers these communities to connect with a dental professional regardless of their location.
Additionally, telehealth appointments can be more efficient for both the doctor and the patient. Telehealth appointments can account for an up to 83% reduction in time it takes to see a medical professional, helping to ensure people with busy schedules or limited time off from work can still get the care they need.
There are also some research studies that show the outcomes of telehelath treatment are more consistent than in-person. When doctors treat patients in person, socio-economic status may sway a treatment plan. For example, someone driving a more expensive car may be offered a service that others are not. It levels the playing field on the treatment plans doctors prescribe as they only really gather the information deemed necessary to treat the patient.
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?
Video chat. Our Dental Team uses SightCall technology to talk directly with our Club Members. They can see the customer, get a view inside their mouth, take photographs, mark the images to clearly notate where a customer has a question or concern for their treating doctor, and more quickly resolve questions or concerns.
If you could design the perfect Telehealth feature or system to help your patients, what would it be?
I think the perfect telehealth platform includes everything we’re using today in addition to machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI). Imagine how those capabilities can enhance our already very advanced telehealth technology, using insights from well over one million satisfied customers to develop treatment plans with even more predictable tooth movement and better outcomes.
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?
Regardless of treatment via telehealth or in-person, to get the best results, patients need to comply with their doctor-prescribed treatment plan and communicate any questions or concerns along the way. One of the many benefits of telehealth is that it affords more convenient check-ins. At SmileDirectClub, customers have unprecedented 24/7/365 access to Customer Care and Dental Care teams — far exceeding the access to front-of-office support.
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?
All of it! Like I said, there is so much potential in telehealth to extend beyond screenings and diagnosis to provide actual treatment. Technology like VR, AR, Mixed Reality as well as AI and machine learning can help us get there!
Is there a part of this future vision that concerns you? Can you explain?
I’m an optimist. I think as long as licensed clinicians are involved in the development and application of this technology across the different health sectors to determine the standard of care, patients will win in increased access to affordable, convenient care.
Ok wonderful. We are nearly done. Here is our last “meaty” question. You are a person of great influence. 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. 🙂
Everyone must continually ask questions and seek out the answers for themselves so that they can feel confident that they are doing the right thing or moving in the right direction. Never take anything for granted and always seek the truth.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Visit smiledirectclub.com or follow us on social media @SmileDirectClub.
Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.