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Teledentistry & Distance Learning

In 2005, the College of Dentistry received a grant from the Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration to expand its capabilities in distance learning and teledentistry. The goals of the project include improved access to oral health care via teleconsultation and improved clinical and educational experiences of dental students, residents and practitioners at our community-based clinics.

The grant period was September 1, 2004 through February 28, 2006.

Project Goals

Goal 1: Expand and evaluate video-conferencing (VC) capabilities from the University of Florida Gainesville campus to health facilities located throughout the state.

Specific objectives:

  1. Upgrade the technology in classrooms/conference rooms/treatment rooms in satellite clinics as necessary, to enable optimal capabilities for live, interactive VC.
  2. Provide live demonstrations of various dental procedures by UFCD distance learning faculty in Gainesville for dental students and residents at community-based clinics across Florida using a mobile VC media cart placed in clinic dental treatment rooms.
  3. Use mobile VC media cart for “Grand Rounds” to enable dental residents and students at community-based clinics to discuss the cases.

Goal 2:Develop and evaluate web-based educational materials for dental students, dental residents, faculty and practitioners.

Specific objectives:

  1. Create an “oral pathology case of the month” educational program for residents, dentists and other interested practitioners.
  2. Develop educational website for dental patients with chronic, common, or difficult to treat dental disease.
  3. Develop “Dental Study Clubs” for practicing dentists in the communities surrounding satellite clinics. Educational materials will be delivered to these study clubs through a combination of live VC, web-based instruction, and on-site learning experiences.

Goal 3: Develop and evaluate clinical consultation services including the use of digital radiography for the efficient exchange of diagnostic information across clinical locations.

Specific objectives:

  1. Select, purchase, install and evaluate new telehealth technology to provide clinical oral pathology/oral medicine consultations to underserved populations being treated at the UFCD satellite clinics.
  2. Purchase, install and evaluate intraoral and extraoral digital radiography x-ray sensor systems (capture devices not x-ray generators) throughout the UFCD clinical enterprise.
  3. Create Windows database cluster and robust backup system and establish an appropriately redundant information systems infrastructure to ensure system stability and reliability.

Project Sustainability

The data collected from the program evaluation activities will be a key catalyst for more extensive research where, for instance, we can answer the following question: Is interactive VC more effective than web-based self-instruction? A key issue for sustainability as in many grant-supported initiatives is whether the value of the project can be sufficiently demonstrated to merit continuation beyond the period of the grant. Inevitably, such an assessment includes not only whether specific objectives can be achieved, but also the costs that must be borne in order to do so.

The data collected throughout this 18-month project will propel a cost-effectiveness evaluation. This evaluation could determine the costs and potential cost-savings to patients, general dentists and dental specialists. While teledentistry offers innovative prospects in the delivery of dental care (rapid access to specialists), little is known on the cost-effectiveness of teledentistry.

The outcomes from the cost-effectiveness analysis could help policy makers, clinicians and planners possess the desired information to fine-tune the teledentistry components, thereby leading to long-term utilization and ultimately providing cost-effective community-based learning experienced to dental students and increasing access to oral health services in medically and dentally underserved communities.