Objective: The primary aim was to evaluate the validity of a teledentistry system for screening new patient orthodontic referrals. The secondary aims were to evaluate whether the teledentistry system affected i) referral rates ii) inappropriate referral rates iii) number of failed appointments.
Study design: Randomised controlled trial.
Sample: Fifteen dental practices in Greater Manchester, UK, were randomly allocated to either a teledentistry test group (n = 8) or a control group (n = 7). They referred 327 patients over a 15 month period.
Method: Practitioners in the test group referred patients to one of two consultant orthodontists via a 'store and forward' teledentistry system consisting of photographs sent as email attachments. The decision to accept or not accept a referral on this basis was compared with the same decision choice when the same patient was subsequently seen on a new patient clinic. This measured the validity of the system with the clinic's decision used as the gold standard. Patients in the control group were referred using the usual letter system. Referral rates, inappropriate referrals and number of failed appointments were then compared between the teledentistry and control groups.
Results: The sensitivity (true positive value) of the teledentistry system was high at 0.80 with a positive predictive value of 0.92. The specificity (true negative value) was slightly lower at 0.73 with a negative predictive value of 0.50. The inappropriate referral rate for the teledentistry group was 8.2% and for the controls 26.2% (p = 0.037). There was no statistically significant difference in clinic attendance between teledentistry and control groups (p = 0.36).
Conclusions: Teledentistry is a valid system for positively identifying appropriate new patient orthodontic referrals. However, there is a risk that a patient is not accepted on the teledentistry system who would benefit from a full clinical examination. Teledentistry could be a significant factor in reducing the inappropriate referral rate. Patient participation in a teledentistry system does not appear to mean they are any more likely to attend their hospital appointment.