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    The next big thing in dentistry is already here

    What will dentistry look like, and how will it operate, when it is integrated with primary care?


    Impact on dentistry

    At $3 trillion dollars, the total healthcare system dwarfs dentistry at $140 billion. Systems rule; they always have and they always will. Dentistry is part of a system, although dentistry has been freely operating independently since it became a formal profession. But the healthcare system is dramatically changing and dentistry’s isolation is coming to an end.

    The system determines the kind of players required to make the system work. The system determines how the players play. The system therefore determines how dentists and primary care will best serve the system. Examples abound of the supremacy of systems—the New England Patriots, Zappos, Boeing, Aspen, the Marines. The system is the ultimate determinant.   

    All the stakeholders in the healthcare system—insurance companies, clearing houses, hospitals, employers, government, suppliers, financial institutions, dental and medical schools, social media, professional organizations and providers—know that treating chronic disease by adding dentistry keeps people healthier and more productive, reduces their co-pays, keeps absenteeism down and holds the line on how much money is spent on health care.

    Trending article: How EHRs are changing oral-systemic health

    Currently, dentistry is based on a fee-for-service model. You do a procedure, you get paid for it. The more procedures you do, the more you get paid. The more expensive the procedure, the more money you make. Dentistry has always been a for-profit business. That’s what worked in the old health care system, but it seems it won’t work nearly as well in this newly emerging system.

    Costs need to be controlled throughout the entire system. That’s obvious. Efficiencies need to be improved. That’s obvious. Chronic diseases are the biggest guzzlers of the health care dollar. That’s obvious. Dentistry can be a game changer. For example, when you add dentistry to the mix, you save $7,000 a year per patient on a substantial population of diabetic patients.

    With these clinical and cost-saving outcomes, what kind of pressures will this put on dentistry when the system stops looking at dentists as independent operators? Dentists, like it or not, will be viewed more and more as integratable pieces within the overall health care system. 

    Trending article: Study finds limiting dental benefits increases hospital visits

    What’s going to happen?

    What will dentistry look like, and how will it operate, when it is integrated with primary care? Ask Kaiser-Permanente Northwest, which has a diverse and highly skilled group of 145 general and specialty dentists as well as a broad PPO network with more than 6,000 dentists in Oregon and Washington. Kaiser is moving powerfully forward integrating dentists into the patients’ overall health care.

    What will dentists do when they are held as an integral part of the healthcare ‘team’ with the other players? Being responsible to and within a group is a whole lot different than being only responsible to yourself.

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    Dr. Marc Cooper
    Dr. Cooper's professional career includes private periodontist, academician, researcher, teacher, practice management consultant, ...


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