Why PDS Health is leading the charge for medical-dental integration

Pacific Dental Services, one of the largest DSOs in the country, recently transitioned into PDS Health, signaling a move to become a comprehensive healthcare support organization.

The increasing awareness of the connection between oral health and overall health helped fuel the decision to rebrand to PDS Heath, with an aim to improve patient care and advance medical-dental integration.

PDS Health Founder and CEO Stephen E. Thorne IV recently connected with Becker's to discuss the reason behind the company transformation and the importance of integration between oral health and primary care providers.

Note: Responses were lightly edited for clarity and length.

Question: What led to the decision to transition into PDS Health and take a broader approach to health care?

Stephen Thorne: For over a decade, we have been studying the market and scientific research showing that oral health means better overall health. It's abundantly clear that oral healthcare providers can have a massive impact on people's overall health. Oral healthcare providers are perfectly and uniquely positioned to be a conduit, if not the primary conduit, for general health. The longstanding separation of dentistry from primary care healthcare is crazy, in my opinion, considering the mouth is connected to the rest of the body and is the gateway to so much of our overall health. We've been studying and working on this issue, trying to figure out how to make it all work, and after over a decade, we finally made the decision to make this transition and lead a very necessary change in health care. Looking ahead, we envision local primary care facilities where medical and dental providers work together to help patients be healthier and happier.

Q: Why is medical-dental integration so important, and how will this change help advance patient care?

ST: It's all driven by science, first and foremost, and supported by data that shows the benefits of proper oral health, especially in relation to chronic inflammatory diseases. The impact of oral health on these conditions is undeniable. When you look at the data across hundreds of studies, it consistently shows a significant decrease in overall cost of care for patients who receive proper oral health care. Dentists can play a key role in this area. Most people know to visit the dentist twice a year, but they might not see their primary care doctor as often unless they're feeling sick. This regular contact with dental professionals positions them as an essential first line of defense in early detection of health issues through comprehensive screenings. We all know that early intervention is key in maintaining overall health and managing healthcare costs. With this in mind, it's clear that dentists and oral healthcare providers must be part of the primary healthcare team.

Q: What other gaps exist between oral health and healthcare overall, and how can they be addressed to make a meaningful impact?

ST: There are a few things that must happen if we are truly going to have an impact. First, there needs to be a shift in clinicians' mindset to recognize the vital connection between oral health and overall health. Dentists do a great job of addressing dental needs, but many have yet to connect this care to overall health concerns. It's like the proverbial iceberg. They effectively manage the visible portion above the water, but below that is a vast mass, symbolizing the body's overall health. Clinicians, both in primary care and dentistry, must embrace the concept that they are there to serve the patient's broader health needs, with oral health playing a pivotal role. Second, there needs to be greater integration within the American healthcare system. The current siloed approach creates barriers to accessing comprehensive care. Breaking down these silos will improve patient outcomes and access to care. Lastly, the reimbursement system needs to evolve. It doesn't require drastic changes, but we are moving toward a value-based care system. Key and critical adjustments should be made that help reduce overall costs, improve patient health, and reward early intervention.

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