As Artificial Intelligence (AI) becomes increasingly prominent, professionals across the board are examining the impact of AI on their respective industries. AI has gained particular footing in the dental industry, with many dental practices increasingly implementing AI into everyday operations. This new technology can streamline various dental processes, assisting dentists with administrative tasks, insurance claims, and treatment plans. However, practitioners must proceed with caution, as implementing AI in the dental industry without a measured and thoughtful approach can often lead to more complications than benefits. The following will examine the benefits and drawbacks of implementing AI in the dental industry and outline the importance of balancing AI with a human touch.
One benefit of AI is its particular applicability to the patient-centered aspect of dentistry. In its 2023 article “How AI is Transforming Dental Practices,” Forbes outlined that “by integrating AI technology into their digital imaging systems, dentists can now swiftly analyze X-rays, detecting oral health issues such as cavities, bone loss, and infection” (Giesecke). This integration increases productivity, streamlining work already being done. It allows the practice to efficiently manage time, enabling the practice to see more patients on the same day. The same article outlines that AI can become “part of the clinician’s workflow, allowing dentists to consider AI-recommended treatment as they are diagnosing the patient” (Giesecke). By integrating AI into treatment plans, dentists can create treatment plans more efficiently. This method also allows for a greater degree of patient trust, as AI can help illuminate dental procedures and terminology to patients in an easily comprehensible manner. AI can assist with patient engagement, allowing patients to take greater control of their treatment options and comprehensively evaluate treatments. While AI has particular use in dental patient care, it is currently most widely utilized to support dental billing processes.
On top of its uses in patient care, AI can benefit dentists by effectively streamlining dental billing processes. By automating coding and documentation, dental administrative workers can utilize their time more efficiently. Furthermore, AI can “automate scheduling, appointment reminders, insurance claim submissions, and digital payment methods…this can reduce waiting times, streamline information workflows, and empower patients with information” (Giesecke). Through streamlining wait times and information workflows, AI can free up a dental practitioner’s time, allowing more attention on patient care. Specifically focused on dental billing, David Teich’s article “Artificial Intelligence and Dental Insurance” suggests that AI can increase the “accuracy and speed of dental insurance processing, resulting in better medical control, improved financial outcomes for providers and payers, and improved care and customer service for the patient.” Claim processing often demands large quantities of dental administrators’ time and energy, so utilizing AI-influenced automation can ensure resources are allocated more efficiently. However, given the high upfront cost of integrating AI into an existing practice, many dental groups often outsource their billing needs to a revenue cycle management (RCM) partner that employs efficiencies through human and AI expertise. By outsourcing, the practice can leverage the benefits of automation without incurring the capital investment. As AI continues to improve, outsourcing dental billing becomes increasingly attractive for practices, but implementation must be both thoughtful and cautious.
While many professionals in the dental industry endorse the use of AI, others are hesitant about its integration into the larger dental landscape. One common argument is over the implementation of AI without proper testing and human oversight, as this creates the possibility for AI to be inaccurate and ultimately hinder the dental practice’s ability to provide high-quality care. To combat this, dental practitioners must ensure that “human testers can provide the necessary oversight” (Dang, “Examining the Challenges and Benefits of AI in Software Testing”). Without human oversight of AI, dental practices risk the AI producing incorrect information. Dental practices may rush into implementing AI, failing to properly train staff on how to work with the new technology. Adequately training staff on handling AI is a significant but necessary investment to implement the technology effectively. McKinsey writes that employee skills gaps with AI can “slow or outright halt technology implementation.” If dental practices implement AI without proper testing and training, overall productivity may actually decline as employees become consumed by working with a technology they do not fully understand.
An RCM partner must also tread cautiously in the AI space, to ensure optimal performance when supporting dental practices. While AI may sound like the perfect solution and offer cost efficiencies, it is evolving so quickly that it can be difficult to fully comprehend its benefits and pitfalls. Unless billing groups are willing to properly train and invest in staff who understand how to properly integrate automation into RCM processes, the return is often not high enough to justify the initial investment. Thus, a dental practice evaluating an RCM partner should include in its research what the RCM partner’s philosophy may be regarding the use of AI and the specific procedures and training that have been employed to ensure the AI provides accurate and valuable support.
As AI gains prominence in the dental industry, dental practices must find a balance in how best to implement the technology. Choosing not to utilize AI only puts dental practices further behind their competitors, as AI’s integration into the dental industry is inevitable at this point. Delaying its integration can also compromise practice success, as AI’s ability to streamline administrative tasks puts practices that employ the technology correctly in a stronger financial position. However, implementing AI without human oversight and a people-focused approach risks the AI producing consistently incorrect information, hindering the practice’s productivity and damaging its reputation among patients. By balancing AI with a human touch, dental practices can effectively optimize AI to deliver higher-quality services and cost efficiencies that can serve to increase profitability.