The first-of-its-kind joint venture between a regional health system and a national dental support organization, both on the same electronic health records system (EHR) recently announced the location of its first co-located dental and medical office.
By Jenna Hughes
November 2023- The Journal of Healthcare Contracting
Staying up to date with both primary healthcare and dental appointments is essential to maintain an individual’s overall health and well-being. Patients who forgo proper care may delay the diagnosis of chronic illnesses which can lead to a worsening of symptoms. A new approach to healthcare, with the goal of treating patients from a whole-body wellness perspective, integrates primary health and oral health care under the same roof.
Health systems have begun to recognize the importance of dental and primary care integration, such as MemorialCare, a nonprofit integrated health system in Southern California. In December 2022, MemorialCare and Pacific Dental Services (PDS), a nationwide dental and medical support organization, entered into a joint venture to open several co-located offices in the coming years. The partnership brings physicians and dentists together in the same building with access to the same EHR, and with a shared goal of improving patient outcomes, according to a 2022 press release from both organizations.
“The connection between oral health and physical health has been well recognized for at least 20 years now. Despite the fair amount of research going into it, I’m not aware of any other systems in the country that have really started to integrate dental care with primary medical care. That’s why it is so exciting for this partnership to be taking place,” said Dr. Adam Solomon, chief medical officer for MemorialCare Medical Group.
MemorialCare works to make access to high-quality care easier and more affordable with four hospitals, two medical groups, primary care sites, imaging centers, surgical centers, and more.
“Over the coming years, several co-located practices with PDS-supported dental offices and MemorialCare Medical Group health centers will open throughout Orange and Los Angeles counties in California,” said Dr. Solomon. “To see the partnership go from an idea to an actuality and have the first office location opening soon is really exciting.”
In July, the partners unveiled the site of their first integrated practice scheduled to open in fall 2023 in Irvine, California.
An unprecedented partnership
This collaboration between two entities sharing the same electronic health records (EHR) system set a new precedent in collaborative healthcare, allowing both dentists and physicians to view both a patient’s oral health and primary healthcare information. Through the Epic EHR, dentists and primary health providers can seamlessly view patient data including past visits and procedures, lab results, and prescriptions. Records provide a comprehensive picture of an individual’s health to whichever provider they are visiting. Shared medical and dental records will allow patients to have access unlike ever before to convenient primary health and oral care in one convenient system.
“By utilizing the Epic electronic health record system, both organizations can access shared medical and dental information, enabling better collaboration and informed decision-making in patient care,” said Stephen E. Thorne IV, Founder and CEO, Pacific Dental Services. “The interoperability of Epic allows for the closure of care gaps and early intervention, ultimately leading to reduced healthcare treatment costs. This partnership exemplifies how healthcare systems can work together to provide more comprehensive and patient-centered care.”
From an early stage, dental and medical care services have been kept distinct and separate from each other in their practice, service delivery, and insurance coverage. Dentists and primary care physicians have vastly different medical specializations and schooling requirements, and the divergent paths of study created a separation early in history between the disciplines.
According to the American Medical Association in a 2016 article on Overcoming the Historical Separation between Oral and General Health Care, the separation between dental care and medical care is detrimental to underserved groups. It stated, “The notion of dentistry as a field separate from medicine is a historical phenomenon that has been reinforced through legislation, education, and service delivery. This division places an undue burden of dental disease on the most vulnerable Americans who face barriers to accessing dental care.”
Decades of clinical research have suggested that oral health is a critical component to overall health.
“It’s been known there’s a connection between dental and physical health for a long time and yet others haven’t brought these fields together,” said Dr. Solomon. “Sometimes it takes somebody being the first to put their foot forward for others to realize that they could be doing this, too. Integrating the disciplines will enable us to prove that treating both of those sides as one can lead to better outcomes for patients.”
Integration allows for accessible care
The integration of oral health and primary healthcare holds the key to affordable and accessible healthcare for patients, according to a 2019 National Library of Medicine study on the Integration of Oral Health into Primary Care.
The MemorialCare and PDS partnership comes at a time when healthcare organizations are shifting to focus on whole-person wellness that aims to improve overall patient outcomes. The partnership will support MemorialCare’s mission of providing easily accessible, high-quality care along with PDS’ dedication to dental-medical integration to improve health outcomes while reducing annual healthcare costs and avoidable hospitalizations.
“This integration of medical and dental care prioritizes patients, shifting from a clinician-centric past to empowering both providers and patients through technology-driven data aggregation in the EHR for personalized care,” according to Thorne. “The coordination between medical and dental teams enables a holistic approach to patient care, addressing all aspects of their health.”
MemorialCare and PDS’ shared goals will drive groundbreaking collaboration within the healthcare industry.