Health IT Pulse

Jun 28 2011   1:00PM GMT

Dentists, health IT harmonize in treating patients with chronic illnesses

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Health IT doesn’t belong in just hospitals and physician practices; there’s a place for electronic systems in dental offices, too, according to providers.

And dentists should be paying attention to what’s going on in those other clinical settings, too, according to Dr. James Fricton, professor at the University Of Minnesota School of Dentistry. In a web presentation on June 21 titled “Using Health IT for Chronic Disease Management,” Fricton discussed why dentists bypass clinical guidelines when treating patients who suffer from chronic illnesses in addition to using health IT as a means for better quality care. Dentists can be eligible to receive meaningful use incentive payments for implementing electronic health records, as well.

Chronic medical conditions — such as diabetes, obstructive pulmonary disease, depression and congestive heart failure — have a high prevalence in the United States. From a dental perspective, finding the best ways to treat these patients is crucial since they’re already at risk for periodontal disease, dental caries, orofacial pain and complications during or after dental treatment.

Fricton stressed that dentists should follow the same evidence-based guidelines other doctors use while caring for patients to improve safety and quality of care. These guidelines, which are supported by organizations like the American Academy of Oral Medicine, are designed to treat those requiring special care.

These guidelines are not always put into use at the point of care, in part because the information at the point of care has been lacking; but it’s not because dentists are disinterested. Rather, it’s due to the difficulty of translating guidelines into practical use, which is a process that takes time and can affect productivity.

That’s where health IT comes in. Even with guidelines on the proverbial backburner, one way to improve patient care is by embracing technology and, more importantly, by using its communication tools. Clinician decision support (CDS) tools can help the quality and safety of care via several strategies including:

•    Increased communication between clinicians and patients via computers, smartphones and tablets.
•    Facilitating the exchange of information among teams of health providers and with patients.
•    Encouraging patients and clinicians through reminders, alerts and point of care introductions.

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