The newest players in the dental field: Health systems

Hospitals and health systems have begun investing more in dentistry as organization leaders look to provide holistic patient care.

Several dental organizations launched partnerships with health systems within the last two years to advance integrated medical-dental care, including the High Point (N.C.) University Workman School of Dental Medicine and Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist High Point Medical Center, which partnered to expand oral care for patients receiving radiation or chemotherapy cancer treatment. 

New Hyde Park, N.Y.-based ProHEALTH Dental and Irvine, Calif.-based Pacific Dental services also launched partnerships with Northwell Health and MemorialCare, respectively, to expand oral health services. 

New Hyde Park, N.Y.-based Northwell Health recently acquired two dental practices in the state and rebranded them as Northwell Health Physician Partners Dental Medicine locations. While Northwell has previously offered dental services in its network, the acquisitions are part of the health system's efforts to expand its ambulatory services, according to David Hirsch, MD, DDS, senior vice president of dental medicine at Northwell.

Dr. Hirsch added that Northwell expects to make more practice acquisitions in the future and add dental services at its hospitals that don't already have them.

"Every patient that has a valve replacement from cardiac surgery needs a clean mouth, otherwise they risk the valve being infected. Every patient that has an organ transplant needs clearance from dental medicine so you don't reject that. Anybody who's going to have a radiation treatment to the head and neck needs clearance from dental medicine. Almost every service in the hospital needs a dental medicine team," Dr. Hirsch said. "Without that, what happens is a patient goes for a transplant or is going to have a valve placed and they're scrambling to try and get the patient to some private dental clinic that can be difficult to get them to and can be very costly. So it's part of the holistic strategy by Northwell, that we can provide the services in an efficient manner so that overall health can be better."

Fountain Valley, Calif.-based MemorialCare and Pacific Dental Services opened their first co-located integrated office in California in December, where services include dental care, oral surgery, family medicine, obstetrics/gynecology and pediatrics. 

The two organizations plan to open at least 25 co-located locations in the next five years.

MemorialCare Medical Foundation CEO David Kim, MD, told Becker's that in just the short time the practice has been open, the organizations have been able to see the impact of providing integrated care in one place, including getting patients to address a part of their care they may have previously been neglecting. He added that in addition to breaking through an increasing number of silos in healthcare, executives are also starting to realize how oral health and overall well-being are connected.

"Thinking about dental care makes sense for a health system to say, I really want to get my arms around [patients'] whole health. How do I do that? Well, it turns out dentistry is much more relevant than we thought," Dr. Kim said. "That's what the data is showing. That's what the dentists have been telling us for a long time. You're starting to see a recognition of that, and then you're starting to see business decisions to drive that and really bring that to life."

Michael Charlton, president and CEO of Atlantic City, N.J.-based AtlantiCare, said the health system is looking to further expand in dentistry once it opens its first dental clinic in February. Like MemorialCare, this is AtlantiCare's first venture into dental services.

"We're going to start small. We're gonna start organically, we're going to make sure we're delivering great access, great patient care and great outcomes, and then we'll build the program from there," Mr. Charlton said. "[There is] obviously a great need through the community and there's other parts of the community that would be well-served by this practice for the underinsured and uninsured population. So obviously our aspiration would be to grow this program in those areas where we can have the best impact and make sure that they have the same access as our insured population."

Mr. Charlton said the health system has known about the link between oral health and overall well-being, but the challenge was figuring out how to get started with offering these services.

"The challenge has been how do we get it up and standing? How do we fund it? And then how do we connect it to the rest of the health system?," Mr. Charlton said. "The data is clear, specifically now about cardiovascular disease [and] diabetes, that great oral care taught young [and] persistent through the rest of your life [can] prevent some of these other challenges that you have as you age."

Copyright © 2024 Becker's Healthcare. All Rights Reserved. Privacy Policy. Cookie Policy. Linking and Reprinting Policy.