What do dentists want in a dental EHR?

The information needs of dentists are distinct from other health professionals. The clinical and workflow interaction demands close analysis to understand how EDRs should be built and can be used most effectively.

With that in mind, Song et al. interviewed 18 dentists in Pittsburgh. In particular, the dentists reported that “the needs for better visual representation and patient-specific evidence-based information are mostly unmet.” Integrated patient data is still hard to find in dental EHRs, and this is a challenge for workflow and proper care. Knowing chronic diseases, medications and insurance coverage affects treatment, particularly anesthetic. The authors continue:

“Therefore, one focus of dental information systems could be on designing tools that help search for the most up-to-date clinical evidence and guidelines that match patient characteristics and better integrate this information into dental records in user-friendly way.”

Better visualization of affected areas, better access to images and charts, and increased ability to show patients treatment options and potential solutions were all desired by the dentists, and categorized as a largely unmet need. Interestingly, of the 18 dental practices, all had paper records–including the three with electronic dental records. The authors give this as the reason: “The rare use of electronic sources/tools was partly due to the dentists’ busy schedules and partly due to the unavailability of or difficulty in finding evidence-based information.”

Dental EHRs have a lot of room for improvement!

Lessons Learned:

  • As more dentists choose electronic records, more options will be available.
  • Visualization is the next big module that will make electronic records worth using.
  • Clinical guidelines, particularly for complex patients, would improve most dental EHRs.

The article is available here. Song, Spallek, Polk, Schleyer, Wali (2010) “How information systems should support the information needs of general dentists in clinical settings: suggestions from a qualitative study.” BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making. 10(7)