The keys to successfully integrating dental and medical care

Electronic health records and coordinated offices have become critical parts of integrating medical and dental care, according to one healthcare exec. 

Irvine, Calif.-based Pacific Dental Services recently became the first DSO to implement Epic across its network and has used the EHR to pioneer integration.

PDS and Fountain Valley, Calif.-based MemorialCare launched a joint venture in December 2022 to open at least 25 co-located offices over the next five years. Each site will include a MemorialCare health center and PDS-supported dental practice. All providers at the locations will have access to shared electronic health records through Epic.

MemorialCare Medical Foundation CEO David Kim, MD, told Becker's that MemorialCare became interested in partnering with PDS because the DSO uses Epic, calling the EHR system a vital tool for patient care.

"The fact that we are an Epic shop and they're an Epic shop and we can share an EMR together brings a level of integrated thinking and approach and operational workflows that just makes things so much more seamless and so much easier," Dr. Kim said. "Whatever the decision-making is, it brings a seamlessness there that to the patient feels like, 'They know me, and they're going to use that to take better care of me.' And then on the provider side, it just brings in efficiency."

Pacific Dental Services also partnered with the Workman School of Dental Medicine at High Point (N.C.) University in February 2023 to implement the Epic EHR system at the university. 

Other organizations have used Epic to connect oral healthcare and medical care as well. In 2022, San Francisco-based UCSF Health and UCSF Dentistry integrated patients' oral health and medical records into Epic's EHR system, making UCSF the first academic health system in the West to merge oral health and medical records into an EHR.

Dr. Kim noted that another core component of successful medical-dental integration is offering services in a single location because it creates convenience. PDS and MemorialCare's first co-located office, which opened in December 2023, offers dental care, oral surgery, family medicine, obstetrics/gynecology and pediatrics.

"Having those two [services] integrated into the same office helps bring those different silos of care together in a way that if you come see me, I'm like, 'Who's your dentist?' 'Well, I haven't seen one.' 'Well, you should really see a dentist,' and then you leave," Dr. Kim said. "That's a very different kind of ask than, 'Hey, why don't I walk you out and I can make you an appointment to see the dentist?' and then we go out together and I literally hand you over to their front office. That's a very different kind of connection. And I think we're seeing that to be meaningful in helping patients get more holistic, comprehensive care because of it."

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