Improving dental care by linking medical and dental records in exchange for health information

Dental professionals require access to each patient’s complete electronic health record – including laboratory test results and current prescriptions – in order to provide the best possible care; care that is safe for the patient, promotes preventive management and improves the results of dental treatment.

This unprecedented approach would help all types of dentists, including general dentists, oral surgeons, periodontists, dentures, endodontists, hygienists and more. A new project from a number of studies by the Regenstrief Institute and Indiana University School of Dentistry found that information from patients’ medical records is not usually available to oral health practitioners, either easier to use or in a timely manner.

Researchers in dental informatics have confirmed that the requested medical information is usually sent by fax from a medical institution to the dental office. Faxes, sometimes illegible upon receipt, are often scanned into the patient’s dental record. The researchers found that faxed information usually arrives in 7 to 10 days, although 30 percent of the study takes even longer.

Oral health practitioners may need to confirm a list of medical considerations; for example, that there is no contraindication for a patient sitting in a chair for a lengthy procedure or whether the patient is taking any medications that could put him at risk of excessive bleeding during tooth extraction or other procedure. In today’s era of electronic data transmission in banking, shopping and other commercial areas, should healthcare professionals still rely on ineffective, paper-based methods of sharing information with patients?

Thankam P. Thyvalikakath, DMD, MDS, PhD, Senior Author and Study Leader, Director of the Regenstrief Institute

Tivalikakat is also the director of the dental informatics program at the IU School of Dentistry

Demand for modern dental care is increasing due to people living longer with chronic diseases such as HIV and the growing number of elderly people with natural teeth. For these patients, information from their medical record may be particularly important for appropriate dental treatment.

Clinical researchers found that the medical information most often required by the dental office to finalize treatment decisions and the timing of the procedure was the patient’s diabetes status and history of blood sugar levels. Knowledge of this information helps oral health professionals to rule out any contraindications to dental treatment, to determine the results of the surgical procedure or to assess the possibility of implant placement and to calculate the risk of gum disease. For example, if blood sugar levels are high, the implant is more likely to fail.

“Retrospective study of the causes and time required for medical consultations of dental care providers” was published in the peer-reviewed journal Limits in digital health. Authors, in addition to Dr. Tivalikakat, who is a senior and related author, are Shuning Lee, PhD, IU School of Dentistry; Karmen S. Williams, MBA, DrPH, Regenstrief Institute and IU Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health, IU School of Dentistry and City University of New York; Jayanth Kuman Medam, BDS, MS, IU School of Dentistry and ELLKAY LLC; Jay C. Patel, BDS, MS, PhD, IU School of Dentistry and Temple University and Teresa Gonzalez, DDS, IU School of Dentistry.


Reference in the magazine:

Lee, S., et al. (2022) A retrospective study of the causes and time required for medical consultations of dental care providers. Limits in digital health.

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