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H H S Department of Health and Human Services
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Health Information Technology

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How can health IT help integrate oral health and primary care?

Health IT promotes the quality of oral health by adding advanced capabilities for linking a patient’s oral health provider with his or her primary care and other medical providers. There is increasing emphasis on the need for a well-integrated patient-centered medical home that includes oral health providers. Further, early prevention is a key component of good oral health and hygiene, and health IT can be used to facilitate the incorporation of oral health into the medical home. Health IT allows multiple providers to connect and share information that could be relevant and valuable to the provision of care, across multiple settings. An issue brief Exit Disclaimer from the Children’s Dental Health Project (CDHP) Exit Disclaimer that is highlighted in HRSA’s Pediatric Health IT and Oral Health Module discusses a number of initial opportunities for health IT in oral health:   

  • Refine electronic dental records and establish a standard for inter-user transfers of information.
    • As electronic dental records become a more prevalent tool for oral health providers, it will be important to enhance them and ensure they are as beneficial as possible for the provider.
  • Link dental offices into virtual networks for patient care, quality effectiveness research, and improved administration.
    • Using health IT to include dental offices in virtual networks could lead to better tracking of a patient’s health history and ultimately lead to improved care.
  • Link dental services to primary care medical services in virtual networks.
    • By linking dental services to primary care medical services within virtual networks, medical professionals will be better able to ensure patients receive needed oral health services for oral health problems which, if left untreated, can progress to infections or cause other systemic health concerns.
  • Improve access to information, raise awareness and inform consumers about appropriate care.
    • Health IT can provide a unique platform through which a dental provider can communicate with his or her patients. For example, a provider could use health IT to provide email reminders about upcoming appointments, educate patients about the importance of at home dental care, or inform patients about a new service being provided.
  • Improve the quality of dental care through informatics-based comparative effectiveness research and sharing information on treatment norms.
    • Technology can provide an avenue to share information quickly about cutting edge research, technology, or treatments. The speed at which this information can be made available could ultimately improve the overall quality of dental care.

The American Dental Association (ADA) Exit Disclaimer discusses Health IT and the benefits of electronic health records for the delivery of oral health care. Below are some of the benefits of the electronic health record that are highlighted by the ADA:

  • EHRs allow dentists and physicians both access to complete patient information and the ability to update records as needed;
  • EHRs can reduce cost by preventing redundant or unnecessary procedures, improving clinical decisions thanks to more complete patient information, and increased quality of care and patient safety; and
  • EHRs can assist with patient safety by reminding patients and doctors when and how to take medications, and of potential drug interactions and critical appointments.

As indicated in their Strategic Plan, one of HRSA’s top priorities is the integration of oral health into primary care. This is particularly important for children and, as discussed in more detail in HRSA’s Pediatric Health IT and Oral Health Module, pediatricians and other primary care providers can serve as a critical first point of contact for preventive oral health care for children. This module discusses specific guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics Exit Disclaimer for integrating oral health for children into the health care primary care setting. Health IT can facilitate communication between primary care and oral health providers through health information exchange (HIE) which allows multiple providers to access and share information about a patient’s oral and overall health and allow both the dentist and primary care physician to appropriately tailor patient care, education and prevention messages to each patient.

In addition, telehealth is another way in which health IT is currently being used in oral and medical health. HRSA defines telehealth as “the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration.” Telehealth can be used to improve access to and connection with oral health services, especially in rural communities. Additional information about the use of telehealth in dentistry is discussed in Section 4.

Additional resources about the importance of health IT for integrating primary care and oral health are available below:

  • Retail Dental Clinics: A Viable Model for the Underserved? Exit Disclaimer - California HealthCare Foundation report (2009). This report notes that health IT can facilitate the integration of services into medical and dental homes. It discusses the benefits of electronic dental records and digitized x-rays and the use of digital cameras to facilitate transferring this patient information.
  • The Value of Health Care Information Exchange and Interoperability Exit Disclaimer - Created by the Center for Information Technology Leadership (CITL) at Partners Health Care (2005). Reports on results of a study assessing the value of health information exchange and interoperability between hospitals and medical group practices and other providers.
  • What do EHRs Mean for Our Practice Exit Disclaimer - Developed by the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Primary Care Information Project and Take Care New York (2007). Provides an introduction on the effects of EHR adoption on providers, administrators, nurses, medical assistants, front office staff and back office staff.
  • Guide to the Future: Using HIT to Improve Oral Health Access and Outcomes Exit Disclaimer  (PDF - 4.5 MB) The National Network for Oral Health Access (NNOHA) commissioned this White Paper on Health Information Technology (HIT) in Oral Health Programs to raise the awareness of this underserved market segment to help oral health providers and their patients reap the benefits that technology promises. This document gives context for a discussion on the benefits of integrated dental HIT.
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