Changing the face of dental hygiene

Dental Products Report, Dental Products Report April 2020, Volume 54, Issue 4

It is important that hygienists understand and embrace dental EHRs and are active in their evaluation and selection.

Hygienists are becoming aware of how beneficial it would be from both a patient care and liability standpoint if they could actually know a patient’s most recent medical conditions, procedures, medications, and other health related information real-time. 

How about the ability to communicate with referral partners, such as periodontists and oral surgeons electronically? Or, what about taking it a step further, sharing results of their patient’s hygiene exams and other records with their medical primary care and specialty providers?

Hygienists are smack in the middle of an expanding Oral Systemic Health Revolution, and along with that, a revolution in next-generation dental electronic health records (EHR) that support it. And hygienists have a unique perspective into the requirements necessary for this new software to support better patient care, especially regarding a patient’s oral health. Hygienists are starting to understand the power they can acquire with a properly designed and implemented electronic health record system.  

So, let’s explore just a few of the powerful features that this technology offers for hygienists so they are better prepared to be involved in the dental EHR decision-making process.

Medical profiles at your fingertips
How many times has a hygienist had a medically compromised patient, for example a patient with heart problems, sitting in their chair while they were performing various exams and procedures, and wondered to themselves what their patient’s overall medical history or issues were? Or, having some angst about what medical procedures their specialists had performed on them recently?

Would  a hygienist be better served to have real-time, accurate, reliable information served up by their computer system? Well, that’s one of the major benefits of a true EHR system. All the medical information about a patient can be captured and displayed in a useful organized fashion. There are no more gray areas as to that patient’s medical history. Imagine, there’s no longer a need to try to contact any of the patient’s medical or dental providers for background information or to fill medical history information gaps during the visit.

Histories, exams, and procedures that were done at the patient’s medical provider office can electronically make its way into the dental EHR system so hygienists can always have a complete medical history at their fingertips prior to performing any exams or procedures. This is happening via interoperability and associated health information exchanges (HIEs), which are like big routing systems through which information from various systems, general providers, and specialists passes. 

Enhancing oral systemic health
With more and more research linking oral health with systemic health and the simultaneous burgeoning growth of interoperability and health information exchange, dental and medical providers should be able to easily share information of patients they have in common.

Dental EHRs can help facilitate this collaboration and interdisciplinary team approach. For example, with EHR, the hygienist has a mechanism to meaningfully report suspected oral cancers and other medically related issues that are noticed on their exam. This type of dental-medical collaboration would be much more difficult and perhaps more error-prone if not for EHR technology.

Real-time medication lists
It is definitely worthwhile from both a patient care and liability standpoint to understand a patient’s present medications and medical history. I’ve heard the story over and over again. A hygienist has an older, medically compromised patient sitting in the chair and when asked what medications they were on they either don’t really know, or refused to answer, “because they are just in for a cleaning.”

How comfortable would it make a hygienist feel in these scenarios if they could push a button and magically get a real-time list of medications for that patient based on their trips to their physician, hospital, or other providers? This is what dental EHR-based, real-time medications is all about. And, although it has become very standard in the medical world, not all dental software companies have embraced it up to this point. 

Be involved
It is important that hygienists understand and embrace this new technology and demand that they are active participants in a dental EHR’s evaluation and selection for their practice or group. Only a hygienist knows how technology can help their specific situation and they need to be engaged in the process so they can get the best system for their needs.