We All Can Help to Narrow the Gap in Access to Care
If you don't have access to oral healthcare, you're already behind the eight ball. And for the disabled community in the United States today—numbering over 60 million and including those with conditions ranging from intellectual and psychological disabilities to spinal injuries, PTSD, and aging—it's 4 times more difficult to access dental care than the most socioeconomically disadvantaged person.
The Awareness Deficiency
There are myriad reasons for this unfortunate situation. However, at its core, the problem is that so many people are simply unaware that there is even an issue. Among providers, the most notable challenges are the general lack of adequate training and cultural competency. Up until this year, the Commission on Dental Accreditation requirements for dental education did not include any hands-on clinical training for dental students on a disabled patient. Additionally, the reimbursement rate for procedures is extraordinarily low in light of the amount of specialized equipment and physical space required (even though less than 20% of people with disabilities require restraint or sedation).
Another contributing factor is the lack of awareness among patients and caregivers that oral health is a critical component of overall healthcare. In a recent survey, parents were asked to list the top 10 health needs of their disabled children. Oral health came in 14th—not even on their radar!
Helping to Close the Gap
Efforts are being made to not only raise awareness about the importance of oral care for people with physical, intellectual, and developmental disabilities, but to develop strategies and concrete recommendations for providers who want to treat this underserved community.
Henry Schein is involved in partnerships and initiatives to help improve care in this arena. One group that Henry Schein works with is the Viscardi Center’s Project Accessible Oral Health (PAOH). With the participation of more than 30 organizations, PAOH is helping to create a training clinic at the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine that will emphasize new techniques and equipment, including sedation/calming, wheelchair access, and more. Expanding on this partnership along with AmeriHealth Caritas, Henry Schein has helped to increase third-party reimbursement for treating individuals with disabilities, and to develop specialized CE at the Penn and Temple dental schools.
We also are working with the National Council on Disability on enforcing the guidelines of the Americans with Disabilities Act. We’ll be using the strength of our media to call out certain aspects of the regulations that will help dentists accommodate and treat patients with special needs. Additionally, Henry Schein offers design services that address compliance issues. In addition, we are working to stimulate innovation from the manufacturing sector in creating, adapting, and modifying products—from toothbrushes and toothpaste caps to adaptive chairs and delivery systems.
The overriding goal is to raise awareness about the issues surrounding the delivery of oral healthcare to a very heterogeneous disabled community and to build a grassroots movement including caregivers and other concerned citizens. With a groundswell of awareness and compassion, the access-to-care gap is becoming more visible on the radar screen. I urge you to get involved. To see why you should and how you can, start with the Special Care Dentistry Association and the American Academy of Developmental Medicine and Dentistry.