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Integrating medical, dental care breaks down health barriers and improves outcomes

Sept. 23, 2022
A decade-long review of medical-dental integration models shows that increasing communication between dental and medical providers reduces barriers to care and improves positive health outcomes.

A new report from the University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine affirms what many dental professionals have long touted: that increasing communication between dental and medical providers reduces barriers to care and improves positive health outcomes in vulnerable populations, such as at-risk children, pregnant women, seniors, and those in need of chronic disease management.

Led by assistant professor Tamanna Tiwari, DDS, the decade-long review of medical-dental integration (MDI) models “finds that in an MDI model, coordinated, streamlined communication and collaboration among the entire care team is critical for positive patient outcomes and provider engagement," Dr. Tiwari said. "Identifying creative ways to adapt to specific situations may help increase access to oral health screenings, diagnosis and referral of patients for chronic disease management. This has the potential to reduce the number of appointments and providers a patient must interact with, which increases the likelihood that patients will receive critical preventive care."

The report was funded by the Delta Dental Institute, which supports the research-based exploration of care delivery models like MDI that improve health care outcomes and advance patient-centered care.

"Oral health is a critical component of whole-person health," said Joseph Dill, DDS, MBA, Head of Dental Science at the Delta Dental Institute. "Care delivery models that rely on collaboration and integration between primary and dental care teams, when implemented successfully, can create more inclusive approaches that help the health care system work better for everyone."

Key takeaways from the report include:

Best practices for implementation

  • Coordinated and streamlined communication, collaboration, and adaptability among the entire care team.
  • Electronic health record (EHR) integration and interoperability.
  • Using warm hand-offs and emerging technologies, such as telehealth and teledentistry, to coordinate care, manage complex patients, and close referral loops.

Recommendations for the sustainability of integrated services

  • Train medical professionals on oral health care, maximize the contribution of dental professionals, and increase diversity and cultural competency of care teams to achieve long-term viability.
  • Achieve better health outcomes at lower costs by implementing MDI's value-based care model, which aligns health care systems, patients, and providers.
  • Maintain net revenue positivity through MDI models that sustain patient volume and payer distributions.

Snapshot of successful care models

  • There is no single formula for the success of an MDI model; adapting to specific situations and finding creative ways to maximize success are crucial to continuing the evolution of integrated care.
  • The colocation of services model can improve coordination of care, which improves access to oral care, dental referrals, and preventive procedures. This model does not require full integration to be successful.
  • The fully integrated care model involves the use of electronic health records (EHRs) and collaboration of providers to improve services to patients, which creates diverse referral relationships with dentists and can use strategies like teledentistry to improve access to care.

Dr. Tiwari will present her report discoveries at the Interprofessional Collaborations to Improve Oral Health poster session on November 7, 2022, during the American Public Health Association's Annual Meeting.

Sourced from the University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine report: Medical-dental integration models: A critical review of the last decade

(Content edited for style and length)