Pacific Dental Services CIO explains 2020 initiatives, including an Epic system rollout

David Baker is the senior vice president and CIO of Irvine, Calif.-based Pacific Dental Services. Since its launch in 1994, the dental service organization has grown to support nearly 800 offices in 22 states.

Below, Mr. Baker shares insight about innovations and the DSO's successful growth strategy. He also revealed that the DSO has partnered with Verona, Wis.-based Epic to launch a dental practice management solution in 2020.

Q: What will 2020 look like for Pacific Dental Services? Are there any big projects on the horizon?

David Baker: Yes, huge. In terms of technology, 2020 will be the culmination of two years of foundational, yet cutting-edge, infrastructure work. This will allow PDS to deploy Epic's practice management solution in the second quarter of 2020 and become the first dental support organization in the world to partner with Epic.

Epic, a widely used comprehensive electronic health records system, will allow PDS-supported dentists and specialists to coordinate care with other healthcare professionals who also treat their patients, closing care gaps and reducing duplication. Oral healthcare is a critical component of overall health, and this investment in Epic will enable PDS-supported clinicians and their patients to more fully participate in the promise of a seamless, comprehensive healthcare system focused on whole-body health. Our partnership with Epic aligns with PDS' primary purpose to support dentists so they can focus on providing comprehensive oral healthcare and keeping patients healthier and happier. This includes educating patients about the link between oral health and whole-body health — what PDS refers to as the mouth-body connection. Research shows that harmful bacteria and inflammation in the mouth can indicate and even cause systemic conditions throughout the body. Maladies of the mouth, including periodontal disease, may be linked with other medical conditions including oral cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, rheumatoid arthritis and more.

Q: How does Pacific Dental Services foster innovation?

DB: We have invested heavily in our emerging technology group. We actually have a dedicated team whose sole focus is emerging technology. We have a "test kitchen" in our Irvine facility that's used to evaluate new equipment and technology. If something tested turns out to be a success, we work to make it available to the dentists PDS supports.

We've made significant investments to enhance the tools and resources for PDS-supported practices. The dental practices we support are known for offering their patients Chairside Economical Restoration of Esthetic Ceramics computer-aided design and on-site computer-aided manufacturing dentistry. Ninety-five percent of PDS-supported dentists use CEREC CAD/CAM, a 3D scanning machine that produces ceramic inlays, onlays and crowns to match the shape, size and color of patients' teeth. CEREC CAD/CAM is less invasive and allows dentists to provide permanent, natural-looking crowns for their patients in less than two hours. CEREC CAD/CAM technology is a key dental differentiator for our supported practices, setting them apart from other providers. In fact, in May 2019, PDS announced its supported practices completed 2 million CEREC CAD/CAM same-day crowns, the first in the dental industry to hit this monumental landmark.

Q: What is your biggest challenge as a CIO?

DB: Interoperability in the dental industry. For this reason, PDS formed the Dental Health Technology Council. The council is intended to provide an informal forum for IT leaders in the dental industry to promote and facilitate industry collaboration. The goal of the council is a noble one, to improve patient and clinician access to critical healthcare data and information. The council explores ways in which the industry — including business support services organizations, manufacturers, software companies and vendors — can help empower patients to more fully leverage their personal health information and to enable clinicians to better serve their patients.

We are partnering with Epic so patients can see their acute, primary and dental health history all in one place. This will be a powerful tool because we will be able to connect issues between the mouth and the body. However, the road to this point hasn't been easy. We've worked with some of the biggest vendors in dentistry to discuss how we can link data between industries. There are some who don't think this is a necessary step, but with time more people are understanding the benefits this type of collaboration could have. We've found that most information in any one practice is generally disconnected, but with Epic, the dental offices will be able to collaborate holistically in support of their patients' overall health.

Q: How has Pacific Dental Services grown? Is there a specific strategy behind the company's growth?

DB: The success behind our growth strategy can be attributed to our owner dentist model. We developed the platform and continually add the latest technologies that our supported dentists can pull. Some technologies are automatically implemented in practices, while others are available to the owner dentists to decide if they want to implement them. We provide information and self-service opportunities at their fingertips. Our goal at PDS is to keep adding to our powerful platform to help clinicians be even more relevant and to be the providers of choice in their communities.

Pacific Dental Services is creating and implementing amazing digital experiences that patients of the practices PDS supports expect to see in this day and age. The cutting-edge technology we provide and the holistic approach to whole-body healthcare is part of the goal for PDS-supported practices, so they can provide the Perfect Patient Experience®.

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