Integrating Medical and Dental Records for Improved Care

By Dr. Fred Eichmiller, VP & Science Officer at Delta Dental of Wisconsin

You visit your doctor for a check-up every year. You go see your dentist for a cleaning every six months. Each asks you: "Are there any updates to your health I should know about?" "Are you regularly using any prescriptions?" Shouldn't your doctor and your dentist be communicating with each other? After all, they are both working toward the same goal of helping you achieve optimal overall health.

Medical and dental practices have been siloed for years, creating an information void. So we're working to bridge that gap. Delta Dental of Wisconsin teamed up with the experts at the Marshfield Clinic Research Institute to develop a system to combine health records into a single electronic record. We used enhanced health IT to build the infrastructure, allowing physicians and dentists to seamlessly share patient information. The result? A detailed picture of the patient's complete health.

Now that we have built the platform for integrating records, we are working to apply the platform. We want to demonstrate how the platform can be used to develop coordinated care. We are starting this phase of our research with diabetes patients, given the links between oral health and diabetes. Diabetics are more susceptible to tooth decay and gum diseases, such as gingivitis and periodontitis. But these conditions could be mitigated if patients received coordinated care.

Our goal is to develop and implement a new medical-dental model of care to manage diabetes. The idea is to use open lines of communication as a two-way street. Primary care practitioners will engage in oral health screening, and dental providers will perform diabetes status assessments. The patient can be confident that he or she is receiving comprehensive care—not health care in a vacuum.

We're proud that Delta Dental's work has translated to on-the-ground activation. Ten Family Health Centers across Wisconsin have been involved in pilot programs with the new model of care. Additionally, we are piloting dental quality analytics dashboards to measure outcomes and improvement. It is critical that we track performance so that our model can be optimized and refined for future use cases.

The ultimate goal of our medical-dental electronic health record integration is to improve health outcomes across the board. We envision that our system can be expanded to other medical areas that are closely linked with dental issues, such as cancer treatment and heart disease.

Delta Dental of Wisconsin and the Marshfield Clinic Research Institute will conclude their project in August 2019 and will publish the results in professional medical and dentistry journals. Be sure to follow the Delta Dental Institute on Twitter and Facebook for the latest updates on this and other research projects.