New Era At OHSU School Of Dentistry Clinics

01/31/11  Portland, Ore.

As part of a strategic curriculum overhaul, patients now are seen within a ‘group practice’ to enhance interaction among dental students, faculty, staff; changes are boosting efficiency.

 The OHSU School of Dentistry recently moved to an integrated group practice system involving faculty dentists, students and staff in a more private practice type approach to providing comprehensive dental care for patients - including restorative dentistry (fillings, crowns, bridges, prosthetics and implants) as well as all other specialty services.  People interested in making an appointment, can call 503 494-8867.

"The new admission process often allows patients to meet their assigned student at the first visit, allowing patients' care to begin sooner than under the old system," said Denice Stewart, D.D.S., M.H.S.A., associate dean for clinical affairs. "We now are able to accommodate more patients seeking comprehensive care and due to the lower fees charged by the school, patients can maximize their health care dollars."

Fred Auerbach of Portland, Ore., has been receiving comprehensive care - crowns and one inlay ‑ for the past two months.  Said Auerbach, "I picked the School of Dentistry for my care because my being here offers an opportunity for people to learn and there is a financial incentive. I've gotten very good care. It's a win-win for everyone."

Thanks to patients like Auerbach, the OHSU School of Dentistry (www.ohsu.edu/sod) is on track to surpass the number of patient visits to its clinics in previous years. In 2005 -2006, there were 96,380 patient visits to the School of Dentistry.

"The switch to a group practice structure in our patient clinics has brought a number of unexpected positives to the School of Dentistry," said Dean Jack Clinton, D.M.D. "Being able to care for more patients in a more flexible way is one of them."

Clinton noted that the school's move to a group practice structure within the clinics is the first major change in the way the dental curriculum has been taught since 1946, when the School of Dentistry was brought under the umbrella of the Oregon State Board of Higher Education and became the University of Oregon Dental School. "This is one of those memorable times that will alter our history forever," he said.

The group practice dental experience is a major goal of an intensive two-year Strategic Change planning process charged with reviewing and revising the School of Dentistry curriculum.

"Nationally, there are calls for change in the way dental students are taught," said Jack Ferracane, Ph.D., chairman of restorative dentistry, who led the School of Dentistry's Strategic Change Committee. "Being ahead of the curve, rather than having curriculum changes dictated means that we're changing for the right reasons."

The goal of the integrated group practice structure is to enhance interaction among students, faculty, staff and patients, says Stewart.  Patients will identify not only with their assigned student dentist, she says, but with the faculty and staff, as well.

In the past months, dental students, staff, and faculty were distributed into six group practices. Each group practice is named after a Portland-area bridge:  Broadway, Fremont, Hawthorne, Sellwood, St. Johns and Steel.

Each group practice was assigned a faculty group leader to monitor student progress and performance, manage patient distribution to students based on need and experience, provide clinical oversight of patient care, serve as role models, and approve treatment plans.

"I like working with the same patients, dental students and faculty," said Lynn Whitley, D.M.D., an assistant professor of operative dentistry, who now leads the Sellwood group practice after retiring from private practice in Alaska and joining the School of Dentistry two years ago. "I know what each dental student's skill level is, and we talk at each week's huddle about what it's like to work in a group practice. The students are becoming a closer unit and really working as a team."

Dental students are continuing to schedule their own patients. In addition, each group practice has been assigned a care coordinator to help schedule patients and monitor care, as well as help first- and second-year students, who are integrated into patient care for the first time.

Said fourth-year dental student Ben Thomas, "I think there has been a gap between dental school and private practice. Students have to make a big jump after graduation, and I can appreciate the school's effort to try to decrease the gap by simulating a group practice in dental school."