Despite proven links between dental disease and general health, patient medical records rarely include a dental chart.
That could be deadly, said Valerie Powell, a professor of computer and information systems at Robert Morris University.
“The research shows that there is a close relationship between diabetes and periodontal disease, also with stroke, respiratory disease, kidney disease. Some research shows that certain oral diseases are associated with conditions that lead to low birth weight,” Powell said.
“And yet dentists and physicians aren’t communicating. I really don’t believe we’re going to get an optimal improvement in clinical care until we take care of this problem.”
Seeing an opportunity with a new White House administration, Powell organized a teleconference Wednesday with a dozen specialists in dentistry, medicine and computer science nationwide to compile recommendations for Tom Daschle, President-elect Barack Obama’s nominee for secretary of Health and Human Services.
Obama requested such recommendations from “health care community discussions” nationwide.
Last year, Gov. Ed Rendell appointed Powell to the 44-member Pennsylvania Chronic Care Management, Reimbursement and Cost Reduction Commission. She said one glaring problem in chronic health care is lack of information-sharing between doctors and dentists.
“There’s this notion that dentistry is somehow different and separate from medicine, and that’s an obsolete way of doing business,” said Dr. Franklin Din, a dentist for 20 years who is a consultant for Apelon, Inc., a Connecticut company specializing in medical software. “Obviously the mouth is part of the body. So oral health conditions can affect the rest of the body.”
The panel Powell convened plans to send its recommendations to Daschle by the end of the month. The ideas include modifying dental and medical education so future dentists and physicians are well-versed in both fields, using computer technology to share records and addressing liability concerns that could prevent the sharing of patient information.
The University of Pittsburgh is one of the only schools in the country with a dental informatics program, which studies how computers can improve dental care.
“The challenge here is … that overwhelmed dentists have little time to try to do everything,” Dr. Miguel Humberto Torres-Urquidy, a dentist in the Pitt program, told the panel. “We have to find a solution for the busy practitioner. I think developing these tools — informatics and computer technology, or even just a good paper form — could make a big difference.”