Why Pacific Dental, MemorialCare and Epic are striving to integrate dental, medical care

Integrated dental-medical care is no longer just a distant possibility, but reality.

In December, Pacific Dental Services and MemorialCare formed a joint venture to integrate dental and medical care.

Through the joint venture, the DSO and health system plan to open at least 25 co-located facilities in the next five years, with PDS-supported dental offices inside select MemorialCare Medical Group health centers across California's Orange and Los Angeles counties.

Patients' oral and medical health records will be integrated through Epic's EHR system, giving providers insight into patients' overall health.

As Pacific Dental Services is one of the largest DSOs in the country, teaming up with MemorialCare and Epic marks a significant step toward solidifying dentistry's place in overall healthcare.

"I think that we will see a significant growth in dental and medical integration over the next five years," Mark Schafer, MD, CEO of MemorialCare Medical Group in Fountain Valley, Calif., told Becker's. "Right now, it's been really kind of limited to the academic centers, primarily where they have dental schools and medical schools, there's been some small degree of integration there. We're the first in the country to have a private, large dental organization with a large medical organization integrated in the United States."

What will these co-located offices look like?

The plan for the first office is to advertise dental and medical services and have a shared reception area, Dr. Schafer told Becker's. There will be a dental clinic operated by Pacific Dental and a medical clinic operated by MemorialCare. Both clinics will examine patients' dental and medical records through an integrated lens.

"The electronic health record really is the glue that keeps the medical team and the dental team together," Stephen Thorne IV, founder and CEO of Pacific Dental Services, told Becker's. "PDS has done one clinic before side by side with an MD and when we didn't have the same record, and it didn't work. So that is so critical to this partnership we're creating to get the physicians and the dentists talking the same language. I think what you'll see is they're going to become one team."

The integrated health records not only benefit's providers, but patients as well, one Epic executive said.

"The technology provides a similar view to the patients through MyChart, where there's an opportunity for them to see holistically this mouth-body connection, understanding both what is happening on the dental side as well as on the traditional medical side," Seth Hain, senior vice president of research and development at Epic, told Becker's.

Other dental organizations, such as Western Dental and the TeleDentists — a network of dentists offering services in virtual settings — also have been working toward integrated care models. Whether through co-located offices or integrated telehealth platforms, the medical care industry seems to be welcoming dental with open arms.

"I believe it is the future of healthcare. In fact, I believe that integrated delivery systems are the future of healthcare," Barry Arbuckle, PhD, CEO of MemorialCare, told Becker's. "We look forward to seeing other health systems across the country follow this same path as they continue to move toward integrated delivery."

This partnership has lit a spark in the dental-medical community, according to Carolyn Ghazal, DDS, a founding owner-dentist at Pacific Dental.

"There's a lot that needs to be navigated. However, the announcement of this partnership has piqued the interest of a lot of clinicians." Dr. Ghazal told Becker's. "I've had a lot of people, dentists specifically, reach out to me with questions about this. I think it's the beginning of something remarkable, and I'm very excited to be a part of it."

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