|Regions Hospital/HealthPartners Dental Voucher Research program
Nomination narrative—Community Benefit Award
HealthPartners Midway Dental Clinic and Regions Hospital created a program that is reducing the number of unnecessary visits to the emergency room while providing needed dental care to a population that might not otherwise receive it. The Dental Voucher Research program’s impact on the community, as well as its potential for even greater future impact, makes it worthy of the MHA’s Community Benefit Award.
The program was created to address a singular problem: People with toothaches who don’t have insurance often come into the Regions emergency room to get relief. Hospital emergency rooms don’t have dental services, so the best the staff can do is give patients something for the pain. The patient leaves, only to later return when the pain comes back, because the dental problem itself has not been treated. The process turns into a vicious circle that drains resources and clogs emergency rooms. Last year, Regions treated 1,700 people for dental pain, with about a third of those being repeat patients—that’s practically the equivalent of a fulltime dental practice. The challenge is to make sure patients with emergency dental issues are seen by a dentist, and reduce the rate that they return to the ER.
The Dental Voucher Research program began as a pilot in November and December of 2013. Each time a patient came to the Regions Hospital emergency room with dental pain, he or she was given a voucher to receive free care at HealthPartners Midway Dental Clinic, about three miles away. During the two months, the ER handed out twenty vouchers, and only one person returned—and that was for pain in a different tooth. Sixty percent of the patients who were given vouchers followed up by going to the Midway clinic to receive the dental care they needed.
That 60 percent follow-up rate is especially impressive, given that the program organizers had seen a study that predicted that only 10 percent of patients would take advantage of the dental care in this type of program.
It is considerably more expensive to treat patients in an emergency room than at a dental clinic, especially when there is not an opportunity to definitively treat the dental emergency. Dental patients in the ER also require attention from doctors who could be treating more serious, life-threatening cases. As a result, wait times are longer for everyone when a significant number of patients could, and should, be treated by a dentist.
The population benefiting from the Dental Voucher Research program is often homeless and/or on medical assistance. One of the goals of the program is to demonstrate to medical insurers how much more cost effective it is to treat patients in a dental setting rather than the ER. More importantly, this population now has the opportunity to receive dental care, something many of its members have not previously had access to.
Because of the success of the November-December pilot program, the Regions/Midway partnership is now applying for a grant from the Regions Hospital Foundation to fund a six-month pilot program, beginning this spring. That endeavor would strengthen a program that helps a segment of the population that is often underserved, while reducing emergency medicine costs and improving efficiency in the ER.
Summary paragraph – Regions Hospital/HealthPartners Dental Voucher Research program
The Dental Voucher Research program is a pilot program designed to reduce the number of people who come to the Regions Hospital emergency room when they have dental problems, then come back repeatedly because the dental problem is not fixed and the pain returns. Patients who come to the ER with toothaches are given a voucher for dental care at HealthPartners Midway Dental clinic a few miles away. In the program’s two months, it proved successful at getting dental help for an underserved population and virtually eliminating their return ER visits.