Greg Olsen, DDS, MSD, has run an orthodontic practice in Missoula, Mont, for about 10 years. In that time, he noticed that for many of his clients who live in nearby rural areas, getting to their appointments presented the challenge of missing school.

That’s why he decided to launch the OrthoBus, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: A bus—an outfitted RV, specifically—with orthodontic chairs inside that travels to patients and brings the orthodontist’s office to them.

GregOlsen_OrthoBus_3In December, Olsen bought an old RV and started renovating it. He hired a contractor to convert it from just another vehicle into an orthodontic office on wheels. Altogether, the project cost about as much as opening a satellite clinic.

The OrthoBus officially launched in April. There’s no specific demographic Olsen targets with his mobile services, but any of his adolescent patients at schools the OrthoBus stops by can use the service for care.

“I decided to start this because the most common concern I have for my patients and their parents is missing school,” Olsen says. “I thought it would be a good idea to help my patients be in school more. We live in a more rural community. A lot of my patients have to travel a long way.”

Olsen’s original practice, Olsen Orthodontics, in Missoula is a medium-size orthodontic office with five chairs. When he launched the OrthoBus, he struck up agreements with schools in the area. The bus goes to schools where 10 or more of his patients attend, a little less frequently than once per week.

The OrthoBus could stay parked at the school, treating patients, anywhere from an hour to 5 hours at a time during each visit. It depends on the size of the school.

While his services are open to all students, Olsen says there are some obvious populations that specifically benefit from his new office on wheels.

“Certain populations really benefit. Single-parent families, where their time is strapped already, and other people who don’t get time off from work or time off for being sick. This could really help. There’s definitely a lot of potential,” he says.

But in talking to patients and their parents—he only sees adolescent patients in the OrthoBus—Olsen says everyone is interested in the service, not just those who might have an economic disadvantage. After all, it is inconvenient for everyone when the orthodontist is a long haul away.

GregOlsen_OrthoBus_2Inside the OrthoBus, there are four chairs and a sterilization area, along with three to four members of Olsen’s clinical staff. There’s enough space that Olsen, his staff, and patients can move around comfortably, and do whatever would be done in a brick-and-mortar setting.

Some things, however, still need to be done back at the office. Olsen likes to get acquainted with new patients and set up their initial records in the office setting, and there also isn’t enough power on the bus to take x-rays, so those need to be done in the office, too.

“Our starts, where we put on the braces, and our finishes, where we take the braces off, are done in the office,” Olsen says. “Everything in between can be done on the bus.”

Back in the original office space, Olsen’s practice is comprised of five employees aside from him: three orthodontic assistants, a treatment coordinator, and a receptionist.

Olsen says it wasn’t too challenging to get the OrthoBus approved for use by local health authorities, even though it might seem a little uncommon.

So far, he says, the response has been positive and it’s clear that it is filling a need and preventing students from missing school. The bus has yielded some new patient starts for the practice, as well, but not many. And that’s not really the main goal of the bus, Olsen says.

The cost for patients of using the OrthoBus doesn’t differ from getting services in the office. New patients who want to start up a relationship with Olsen can have a consultation on the bus, but then they need to head to the office for a formal first appointment.

Scheduling is a new concept for the bus as well. Olsen says that his practice tries to work with the demand for the OrthoBus at each school in order to fit everyone in.

“We basically just assess a patient’s desire to be there and work the schedule so we can see them there, and we go back to the schools regularly so we can keep a patient on track,” he says. Scheduling might become a little more challenging if the bus surges in popularity. But that would be a good problem. OP

A.J. Zak is a freelance writer for Orthodontic Products. She can be reached at [email protected].