In terms of Electronic Health Records (EHR) adoption, dental providers consistently lag behind other healthcare providers by almost 20 percent. In part, this is due to lack of allocation of meaningful use dollars preventing the creation of a singular driving force for conversion, dental provider preference for open-ended communication (while EHRs specialize in close-ended questioning used to improve efficiency) and the disconnect between dental health and clinical and medical health (as dental care overall is “taught, practiced, billed, and managed separately from the rest of the medical realm.”). However, the number of dental practices adopting EHRs is expanding as dentists increasingly pursue EHRs “to improve practice efficiency.” In fact, dental EHR adoption has consistently increased over time with 52% adoption in 2017.
Why EHR Integration into Dental Practices is Becoming Increasingly Necessary
EHR adoption can be beneficial to all healthcare providers, dental included, for a variety of reasons. Two key reasons are the connection between oral and medical health and the benefits of more effective and efficient care through proper organization as patient medical history becomes increasingly complicated. Utilizing EHR digital documentation can help patient care by improving the quality of care and increasing the quantity of patients treated. This should help to optimize dental practices processes overall.
Oral and Medical Health are Intertwined
Since their inception, oral and medical healthcare have been inherently connected. Historically, oral concerns were handled in conjunction with other systemic conditions. For example, Hippocrates, the father of medicine, ‘included oral issues as part of what is the Hippocratic Corpus.” When the switch to separate specializations eventually occurred, noted in Egypt, it was done “as a result of their origins but also of their evolution,” to allow “for gains in efficiency of care.”
However, the two remain intertwined in terms of their impact on the body’s health. As the American Dental Association states, “the mouth is a window into the health of the body.” Oral problems can often be the first sign of larger issues such as systematic diseases, general infections or nutritional deficiencies. Additionally, if individuals do not take proper care of their teeth, they can be left dealing with issues that impact other parts of their body such as heart disease, respiratory infections, kidney disease and more.
With the dental and medical disciplines separated, the opportunity arises for patient information that would support clinical operations to be improperly transferred between the disciplines. Reliance upon paper copies of medical records and patient recollection of medical history can result in discrepancies between the disciplines, inhibiting the optimal handling of patient needs as well as allowing uncoordinated organization and storage of patient health information.
Allow for More Effective and Efficient Care
As patients’ health situations and medication profiles become increasingly complicated, keeping their dental and medical histories properly organized is essential. Patients may have various dental needs, medications and more and may see multiple physicians concurrently.9 Consulting their physicians and utilizing written paper charts for organization will not allow for sufficient organization in a timely manner.
Knowing a patient’s medical history, current medical needs and medications as they relate to the patient’s entire healthcare experience allows for dental providers to properly account for all elements of the patient’s experience and optimize the care their patient is receiving. Instead of the time consuming and often fruitless process of contacting the patient’s other healthcare providers or relying upon the patient’s memory of their medical history and medications (which could differ between their dental and medical records) to determine appropriate dental therapies, relying on EHR for quick access to information and medical history ensures the patient receives timely and accurate care.
With 48% of dental providers not yet having switched over to EHRs/EDRs, many dental providers are still utilizing paper charts. Paper charts are organized chronologically as the “dental care was administered or observed.” This type of organization can become cumbersome as patient information grows overtime and more elements must be searched for in order to be taken into account for the patient’s care. Often, the information has to be re-entered multiple times for all necessary records and forms to be included and accessible. And, should anything become lost or damaged, it would be difficult and time-consuming to recollect the information, rerecord it, and reorganize it. Therefore, utilizing a format that would allow information to be looked up as needed and to be recorded digitally, where it would not easily be lost, could help improve patient experience and speed of service.
How EHR Integration into Dental Practices is Beneficial
The benefits of EHR integration are widespread and go beyond individual practices. EHRs can allow for improved “organization, treatment-tracking, and information retrieval,” enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of patient care.
Increase Practice Organization
Integrating an EHR into a practice’s workflow gives the practice the ability to increase organization of patient information and documentation. EHRs can assist in managing the “scheduling of operatories, people, and resources…perform practice management tasks…import and display relevant information obtained from another dentist, dental specialist, primary care physician, or other health care provider” and more. The ability to search for a specific needed piece of information on a patient alleviates the time it would take to sort through paper documents and provides a full range of information on the patient that would otherwise be difficult to obtain in a timely manner. This ensures care for the patient can be done with their full medical history in mind and that their care will be the optimal route to take.
Integrate Treatment-Tracking Abilities
With interoperability at the forefront of medical technology, it is important, now more than ever, to focus on digitizing patient documentation. “The need for seamless exchange of data is vital,” as shared data will help improve patient care and well-being. In fact, significant discrepancies were seen between patients’ medical and dental records in a variety of patient designation groups that were examined retrospectively with as much as “75% of the patients…who directly or indirectly accessed the dental services” showing discrepancies. These discrepancies were due in large part to “the reliance on patient reports from treatments in the other discipline, rather than on an integrated electronic record system.” Utilization of an EHR would alleviate patient information discrepancy issues by condensing the information to one locale and making it searchable.
Retrieve Information Quickly & Easily
Because “it is the responsibility of healthcare providers to be comprehensively aware of the health status of the patient,” it is vital that dental practices are able to retrieve information quickly and easily. The ability to input patient medical conditions, medications, proposed courses of treatment and more not only organizes the information, but, with some clinical-reference software, enables the data to be analyzed and allows recommendations for treatment to be suggested while taking into account a wider variety of potential side effects and complications. Information can be retrieved quickly and recommendations and courses of treatment are able to be optimally calculated for the individual needs of the patient. Without a digital solution, it would take too long to sift through the patient’s entire medical history to come to a fully optimized course of action for them. EHRs are allowing patient care to become even better.
Cut Costs and Save Money
Both by cutting down costs and assisting dental claims, an EHR system can help dental practices save money. With a digital solution, the cost of paper and the space needed for physical charts can be cut down. Dentists can utilize an EHR system to prescribe medication and document charges for billing. This information, used to generate a dental claim, would “then flow into the practice billing system,” creating a streamlined process for submitting dental claims. Plus, with the increased efficiency provided by an EHR system, more patients can be seen, creating more revenue for the dental practice.
While EHR adoption rates may be lower for dental providers than other healthcare providers, the number of dental conversions to EHRs is growing. With benefits such as increased practice organization, integrated treatment-tracking, faster information retrieval, opportunities to cut cost and more, it’s not hard to see why. So, what’s holding your dental practice back from integrating an EHR system?