Dentists should be paid according to the outcomes of their patients and should be monitored more closely given that there is great variability and expense when it comes to dental care, a new report argues.
"I think there is broad consensus that the current oral health system doesn't meet the needs of a significant portion of the population," said Paul Glassman, professor of dental practice at University of the Pacific Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry and lead author of the report "Oral Health Quality Improvement in the Era of Accountability."
The report, funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the DentaQuest Institute, was released as the U.S. healthcare system is undergoing a transition from the "pay-for-performance" model to "value-based care." The paper argues oral health should likewise move in the same direction and make the transition from "volume to value."
The report found dentistry is the second-highest out-of-pocket health care cost after prescription medicines, and, like health care in general, its cost is increasing, reports Laird Harrison for Medscape News. Another issue is the government just pays for about 6 percent of dental care nationally, the report found, leaving people to pay for care themselves.
While expensive, the care dentists give can be inconsistent, the report found. Though Glassman said dentistry is not lacking in standards, there is limited evidence of the best practice for most dental procedures, the report found.
Another issue, the report contends, is dentists are paid according to what they produce, not by how successful they are in their outcomes. As such, dentists are resistant to change since there are few incentives to implement quality improvement programs. "If the question is 'what's the optimum system for providers,' then many feel the optimum system is what we have now," Glassman said. "If the question is 'what's the optimum system for the public,' then you will come to a different set of assumptions."
To help improve the system, the report recommends a number of proposals, including:
• The increased use of electronic health records
• Development and use of measures for oral health outcomes
• Tying incentives to the oral health of the population being served
• Relying more on allied dental professionals and non-dental professionals
It also suggests relying more heavily on telemedicine, with Glassman envisioning "hygienists and dental assistants going into schools, nursing homes, and other areas with underserved populations to deliver preventive care," Harrison reports. "Dentists, monitoring from afar with access to dental charts stored on the Internet, could gain more patients."
Steven Silverstein, director of the graduate program in dental public health at the University of California San Francisco, said the report was "outstanding" and agreed that the care dentists give can be inconsistent, saying, "If you ask 10 dentists to look at a patient you will get 10 different opinions." Part of the problem, he said, is 98 percent of dentists either practice alone or with one or two partners.
Silverstein did take issue with the fact that the report did not mention the high cost of dental education; didn't take cosmetic dentistry into account; and it did not explain how reform could lower the cost of dental care. (Read more)