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5-Year, $7.43 Million Project Develops
Cost-Effective Delivery of Emergency Care
It’s pretty common knowledge that health care in an emergency room costs substantially more than preventive care. It may not be as well known, though, that a substantial number of hospital ER visits are due to oral emergencies.
Ken Hargreaves, D.D.S., Ph.D., is leading a project to help fix this costly problem.
Dr. Hargreaves, professor of endodontics, is the lead investigator on a project funded by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission through the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to develop innovative, cost-effective delivery of health care services to low-income patients. The $7.43 million project is in now in its fifth year.
This initiative—a Delivery System Reform Incentive Payment (DSRIP) project—is one of many being conducted in multiple U.S. states to improve health care delivery.
The School of Dentistry has already been providing the best quality oral health care to low-income patients at a fraction of typical costs for nearly 40 years, making it an ideal site to tackle the issue of dental emergency room visits.
“Almost a million people go to hospital ERs just for oral emergencies,” said Dr. Hargreaves, citing a report by the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality that tallied national ER visits at more than 936,000 in 2009 alone. “These are largely emergencies that dentists or oral surgeons can manage.”
Dr. Hargreaves says that the average hospital ER visit for a dental emergency is about $6,500—as much as 10 times the amount the dental school would charge for the same services. According to his data, around two-thirds of ER visits for oral emergencies are by patients with a mean household income of less than $47,000.
“By developing this emergency dental clinic at UT Dentistry, we can reduce the impact of the numbers of patients at hospital ERs,” said Dr. Hargreaves. “By reducing the impact, we can greatly reduce health care costs.”
Treating oral health emergencies at the dental school is just one piece of the puzzle, however. “The second piece of this, which is parallel to where the DSRIP program is going with medical care, is to develop a dental home for these patients,” he said.
“Instead of providing urgent care on an ad-hoc basis, we’re recruiting these patients into a dental home where they can receive comprehensive and preventive oral care, which is much more affordable.”
By Teri Speece