Dentists should use their patient data to …

… [your answer here].

In today’s blog posting, I am asking you to get creative. I would like to know what you think dentists should do with their patient data. (I explain why below.) So, the first thing I would like you to do before reading further is to complete the sentence above and post it as a comment in response to this blog posting. (If you have not posted on this blog before, I will have to approve your post, but I promise to do this quickly.)

So, now to the real question of this blog posting: Why am I asking you about what dentists should do with their patient data? The simple answer: Because I think we are not doing enough with them. 

Clearly, many of us use patient records to refresh our memory before an appointment, to answer a clinical question, to get a sense of what needs to be done next, and so on. So, our use of patient record data is primarily focused on supporting the care of individual patients. Nothing wrong with that. (Of course, we also use them to defend ourselves in lawsuits, but that is another story.) 

Beyond that, we also use patient records in the aggregate to some degree. For instance, we may check on groups of patients due for recall and send them a postcard or email to remind them. Or, identify patients who are overdue in completing their treatment plan, so we can call them to finish the care that they need. 

Beyond that … I don’t think we do much with our patient records. 

I think that needs to change. I think there is a lot of useful information locked away in our patient databases. For instance, they contain answers to questions like: Do resin restorations placed with the new bonding agent I started using last year have a higher incidence of postoperative sensitivity? In what kinds of patients does scaling and rootplaning not improve pocket depths? How long do crowns in my practice last? What patients are least likely to complete their treatment? Or, my favorite: What kind of dentist am I? 

Imagine that there was an easy way for individual dentists to ask these questions. Or, for that matter, a way to answer these questions using many dentists’ databases. This is one of the research projects we are working on (see “Data extraction using EDR in dental PBRN”).  

Our approach is designed to extract data from a variety of electronic dental record (EDR) systems in a standardized manner for purposes of quality assurance and research. At present, we are pilot-testing it with EagleSoft, but we are planning to add more systems in the future. 

The key philosophy of our approach is that we should be able to extract (for now, de-identified) patient data from a variety of EDRs in a standardized fashion to answer questions such as the ones listed above. This capability could be a highly valuable adjunct to the many clinical research studies being conducted in dentistry. Using data from practices, we should be able to conduct epidemiological, comparative effectiveness and other types of studies. 

Sounds like a good use of patient data to me. Do you agree? If so, what question(s) would you ask of your electronic dental record if you could? Looking forward to your responses!



Titus Schleyer, DMD, PhD
Assoc. Professor and Director, Center for Dental Informatics