As the healthcare landscape changes from the fee-based model to value-based care, the time has come to question the gap between dentistry and other areas of medicine. Even though dentists provide crucial services that benefit overall clinical help, they’re often left out of the loop. It is rare to find dental health providers on the care team in a patient centered ecosystem.
The Consumer Divide between Dental and Medical Health
Unfortunately, this gap is not new and has been in place for years. It is manifest in many areas from IT to insurance. On the consumer side, patients have had to contend with different insurance protocols for dental and medical health. Some people have inadequate dental coverage even when they are adequately covered in other areas. Dental insurance also appears to be less comprehensive in general, leading to more out-of-pocket expenses for patients.
Compared to medical issues, patients are less knowledgeable about dental issues. There is a lack of awareness about the availability of treatment options, preventive services, and the importance of annual dental visits. Coupled with negative stereotypes about dental offices, lack of awareness leads to delayed care. While a handful of people are nervous about visiting the doctor, fear of the dentist’s chair is almost universal.
In addition, access to dental care depends on a number of variables like gender, education, socioeconomic status etc. Researchers theorize that many people with dental insurance are unable to access care because that area is not served efficiently by providers. Even though dental issues are the most common chronic illnesses among American adults and children, oral health doesn’t receive much attention in the media.
The Gap between Medical and Dental Providers
There are problems on the provider side as well. Dentists have different recordkeeping requirements when compared to other practitioners. Not only do they have different workflows but they have to integrate non-textual information into their records. It is not surprising that many dentists use hybrid workflows – EDRs for certain information and paper charts for others.
For a long time, dental practitioners had to make do with general-purpose EHRs for their practices. Given the lack of customization options, many were forced to cobble together a patchwork of systems with different applications. Fortunately, many service providers now for cloud-based EDR systems specifically designed for dental care.
The separation between dental and medical care is highlighted in public policy as well. In spite of the federal government’s push towards the implementation of health IT systems, not many dentists participated in the meaningful use program. Adoption of certified EHR programs by dental clinics has not been massive, to say the least.
EDRs As a Part of Population Health Management
Oral care is a key indicator of overall population health. However, it has been ignored far too long. Good dental care can decrease the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Given that cardiac disease is one of the biggest public health issues in America, oral care should be at the forefront of any health initiative. Dental care can also play a key role in managing chronic illnesses. Thus, any plan for care management should include dental practitioners.
The need of the hour is to improve collaboration and coordination between the various players in a patient’s care team. While software vendors have made inroads in EHRs interoperability, there are significant obstacles still to be solved. Not all EHRs are able to send and receive patient data in a comprehensive manner. Throw a few EDRs into the mix and the stage is set for miscommunication, errors, and mistakes.
Prioritizing oral health will be the key for providers to cut costs, improve outcomes, and reach the goals of value-based care.