Linking medical and dental records needs improvement

linking medical and dental health records
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Dental professionals require access to each patient’s complete electronic health record so they can provide the best care possible.

Yet as a new multi-study project by US researchers has determined, information from patients’ medical records is generally not available to oral health practitioners in either an easy-to-use or timely manner.

The dental informatics researchers from the Regenstrief Institute and Indiana University School of Dentistry confirmed that requested medical information typically is faxed from a medical facility to the dental office. Faxes, sometimes unreadable when received, often are scanned into the patient’s dental record. The researchers found that, typically, the faxed information arrived in 7 to 10 days, although in the study, 30 per cent 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 Dr Thankam Thyvalikakath said.

“In this day and age of electronic data transmissions in banking, shopping and other commercial fields, should health professionals still be relying on inefficient, paper-based methods for sharing patient information?”

The researcher-clinicians found that the medical information most frequently requested by a dental office to finalise treatment decisions and procedure timing were patient diabetes status and history of blood sugar levels. Knowing this information helps oral health professionals rule out any contraindication to undergo dental treatments, determine outcomes of a surgical procedure or assess options for implant placement and calculate risk for gum disease. For example, if blood sugar numbers are high, there is a greater probability that an implant may fail.

The research is published in Frontiers in Digital Health.

In a related study, published earlier, Dr Thyvalikakath and colleagues reported that, with the exception of large healthcare organisations that provide both dental and medical care to patients, for example safety net health systems, few integrated medical-dental records exist. 

In that study, also published in Frontiers in Digital Health, the researcher-clinicians present a health information exchange (HIE) approach they designed to address the need of dental professionals to access a patient’s medical record expeditiously. They note this approach can be adopted by electronic health record (EHR) and electronic dental record (EDR) vendors to develop a connection between dental systems and HIEs.

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