Dentists and Diagnostics: Integrating Dental and Medical Records

Many primary care physicians are missing a big part of their patients’ health history and current data. Taking dentists seriously as part of the medical team requires integration of medical and dental records. In large and group practices, integration with medical records is more common, but the US lacks truly integrated medical-dental records.

Many diseases or conditions begin or are detectable in the oral cavity, and dentists are able to detect, suggest preventative care and diagnose such illnesses. However, the primary care physician is often the main care provider after detection, particularly for conditions like pneumonia, emphysema, diabetes and respiratory diseases–all of which may be detected first by a dentist. Being able to exchange health information requires integration of medical and dental electronic records, either in a personal health record or by sending health data to primary care physicians.

However, patients may not accurately recall information, or may never share the information with their medical provider. Integrating dental and medical records would provide dentists the capability to suggest immediate transfer of relevant information to a patient’s primary care physician. This could increase treatment, follow-through and prevention.

Yet, as stated in 2010 and still true today:

Despite these advantages, electronic health record data are not systematically integrated with electronic dental record data in most healthcare systems. Medical and dental care information systems have progressed independently of one another with little if any attempt to integrate the two systems of care. (Rudman et al., 2010)

In particular, standardized terminologies and policies for integration are crucially needed as more and more healthcare providers adopt electronic records and store health data. Rather than creating silos of data with software that cannot communicate, respecting the pivotal role of dentists in detection and prevention of diseases by enabling easy health information exchange would benefit patients, dentists and physicians.

As the authors of this (2010) article conclude:

“In the quality improvement literature there is a scenario where a large tsunami wave is crashing into the shore. The individuals on the shore are given three options:

  • Give up and be engulfed by the wave
  • Try to run away from the wave
  • Hop on and ride the wave and enjoy the experience.”

Lessons Learned:

  • Dentists often play key roles in diagnosing and preventing medical conditions, yet information transfer to physicians or personal health records is still quite difficult.
  • Standardized terminology, protocols and policies are not yet available for dental-medical record integration.

Rudman, William; Hart-Hester, Susan; Jones, Warren; Caputo, Nadine; Madison, Mary. (2010) Integrating Medical and Dental Records: A New Frontier in Health Information Management. Journal of AHIMA 81(10): 36-39. Last Accessed 10/24/2012: http://library.ahima.org/xpedio/groups/public/documents/ahima/bok1_048094.hcsp?dDocName=bok1_048094