News at WilmU

Augmented Reality to the Rescue

Melanie Daniels

A severe toothache can be unbearable, and over 2 million people experience dental emergencies yearly. They suffer from excruciating pain and need immediate relief. Unfortunately, it’s difficult for dentists to respond quickly to emergencies because their schedules are already packed.   

In her marketing course, Wilmington University Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) student Melanie Daniels embraced the opportunity to attack this critical problem as a real-life project. As the innovations officer at Blue Diamond Dental, she was in an excellent position to analyze emergency patients’ acute pain problems and evaluate possible solutions.  

“I am blessed to have been given this opportunity to participate in the DBA program, most importantly the courses that specifically enhanced my overall analysis, critical thinking, and evaluation skills,” says Daniels. “This project was birthed out of my marketing course, where we specifically studied the jobs-to-be-done process. Taking concept to implementation has been the greatest contribution to my work. I’m excited to say I very quickly am becoming an expert in the dental industry field of study.”

“I hope to move my research to actionable and executable processes within the Delaware dental community and speak nationwide on this and other successful dental business processes.”

— Melanie Daniels

Daniels started by delving into various aspects of the problem. The initial analysis showed that 7% of Blue Diamond’s patients had emergencies. Interestingly, most emergency patients had not been making regular dental visits. Thus, the lack of routine dental monitoring contributed to the complexity of diagnosis and treatment. A longer-term solution could be to decrease emergency cases by increasing preventive care. However, changing behavior is complex, so shorter-term solutions are also needed.  

Next, Daniels analyzed how long it took to relieve patients’ pain. Her research showed that the average time from an emergency patient’s initial phone call to getting in the office and out of pain was between six and 24 hours. One reason for slow relief was that the dental practice had to work the patient into the day’s schedule. If that schedule was full of existing patients, the patient was scheduled as far out as the next day.

After characterizing the problem, Daniels researched possible solutions. She considered both technology and process innovations. From a technological perspective, augmented reality was identified as a promising solution. Researchers have developed remote intraoral cameras that allow immediate diagnosis of the pain source without requiring an in-person visit. Using Zoom or a similar video platform, a dentist can manipulate the intraoral camera to get close-up photographs of the patient’s mouth and teeth.  

Augmented Reality for Remote Diagnosis 

Emergency patients at home simply need to connect to the video platform and open their mouths. The augmented reality software uses high-resolution intraoral camera technology installed on computers throughout the dental office. When patients join the call, they’re instructed to turn on the camera light on their phone and focus it on the tooth or teeth causing them pain. Then, the dental team member can take pictures of the problem teeth, which are transformed into radiographic images that clearly indicate the dental issue.

Daniels analyzed the costs and benefits of the remote intraoral camera and showed acceptable payback. Consequently, Blue Diamond Dental purchased the equipment. But the innovation didn’t stop there.

Process changes were needed to complement the new technology to reduce the time for emergency patients to get relief from acute pain. One process change entailed asking basic 

questions when patients requested treatments. These questions were designed to aid in swiftly diagnosing whether the problem was an infection or something else. In some cases, the diagnosis could be made based on the answers. In others, the responses could guide examinations with the remote intraoral camera. This instrument looks like a large pen that takes high-resolution footage or images of a patient’s mouth.

Now, when an infection is diagnosed, the antibiotic prescription is immediately sent to a pharmacy. Thus, the phone-call-to-treatment time for infections has been reduced from four to two hours.  

For emergency patients with conditions other than infections, the remote camera allows prompt decisions on whether a dentist or another specialist should treat the patient. In either case, having a detailed, preliminary diagnosis guides the subsequent treatment, reducing the time for achieving pain relief.  

How Patients Feel about the New Technology

Blue Diamond Dental’s emergency patients are enthusiastic about the augmented reality camera and the streamlined processes. “I was amazed with the way they were telling me what was happening in my mouth just by the positions I was placing my phone camera,” says one patient. “They had me in the office within a couple of hours. I love this new process.”   

Another says, “The office got my son out of pain in an hour. We answered some questions. They told us he had an infection, and before they could remedy the issue with the tooth, the infection had to be eliminated. The pharmacy called soon after I hung up with the dental office, saying the prescription was ready.”     

The augmented reality camera and process improvements benefit emergency patients and dental practices. Both revenues and the effective use of diagnosis time have been enhanced.  

Another benefit of the new technology and processes is building trust, satisfaction, and stronger relationships with emergency patients. Regular checkups could avoid many dental emergencies. Providing excellent service to emergency patients may lead to a more positive attitude toward preventive dental care. Avoid-ing pain through prevention is the best treatment of all. 

“I hope to move my research to actionable and executable processes within the Delaware dental community and speak nationwide on this and other successful dental business processes,” says Daniels.

— Ruth Norman

Dr. Ruth Norman is a professor at Wilmington University. She played a key role in the founding of the Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) program.

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