Paper-Based Dental Data Sharing Hampers Patient Safety, Outcomes

An NIH-funded study will examine how community health information exchanges (HIEs) could support dental data sharing for patient safety.

While data sharing between physicians and dentists is critical for patient safety, it typically takes a week or more for dentists to receive EHR data for a patient, according to a study published in Frontiers in Digital Health.

Researchers from Regenstrief Institute and Indiana University School of Dentistry analyzed a random sample of 240 medical consult requests for 179 distinct patients. 

The study confirmed that requested medical facilities typically fax patient data to the dental office. The faxed information usually arrived in seven to 10 days, although in the study, 30 percent took even longer.

“Oral health practitioners may need to confirm a list of medical considerations; for example, that there is no contraindication to a patient sitting in a chair for a lengthy procedure or whether a patient is taking any medication that could put them at risk for excessive bleeding during a tooth extraction or other procedure,” senior author and study leader Thankam P. Thyvalikakath, DMD, MDS, PhD, said in a press release.

While electronic data transmissions are standard in commercial fields such as banking, health professionals still rely on inefficient, paper-based methods for sharing patient health data, noted Thyvalikakath, who serves as director of the Regenstrief and IU School of Dentistry Dental Informatics program.

The researchers found that the medical information most frequently requested by a dental office were patient diabetes status and history of blood sugar levels.

Knowing this information helps dental professionals rule out any contraindication to undergoing treatments, determine surgical procedure outcomes, and assess options for implant placement. For instance, if blood sugar levels are high, there is a greater probability that an implant may fail.

In a related study published earlier this year in Frontiers in Digital Health, Thyvalikakath and colleagues found that few integrated medical-dental records exist, except for large healthcare organizations that provide dental and medical care to patients.

The researchers presented a health information exchange (HIE) approach to address the need for dental professionals to access a patient’s EHR data quickly.

“Oral health practitioners shouldn’t have to wait, as our work shows they often currently must, for medical information to make treatment decisions,” Thyvalikakath said. “Delays in receiving medical information can require dental treatment to be postponed, sometimes to the detriment of the patient’s health and convenience.”

Thyvalikakath added that the exchange of information between dentists and doctors should be bidirectional, as dental records can also inform medical care.  

“For example, an oral health professional’s identification of new oral ulcers or dry mouth may alert the physician to a previously unreported medical issue or present another symptom, helping in the identification of a medical syndrome,” she said.

The researchers will leverage a five-year NIH grant to investigate HIEs and medical-dental records coordination. The team plans to design, develop, and test new health IT solutions that are practical for dental practices to connect to community HIEs for patient data access.

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