Transforming Dental – and Medical – Care Across Virginia

Virginia Oral Health Coalition

Even as the American health care system snaps in the ever-changing winds of politics, many of our nonprofit clients are trying to read the tea leaves – and anticipate the future. A few, like the Virginia Oral Health Coalition (VOHC), are hoping to shape the future.

VOHC got off to a good start in April when it brought close to dozens of Virginia organizations together for a day-long su mmit to explore ways to better integrate medical and dental care.

The concept is simple – making it more of a norm for dentists to ask basic medical health questions of their patients, and vice-versa; creating a mechanism to allow doctors to schedule dental appointments for their primary care patients, and vice-versa; and so forth.

Led by VOCH executive director Sarah Bedard Holland, and project manager Katherine Libby, we facilitated a series of design team meetings that led to the summit.

Those small group sessions created the focus and framework for the full-day summit on April 20 with its vision of a Virginia where, “Optimal oral health is the norm and achieved through collaboration among patients, healthcare providers and the broader community.”

Under the banner of “Improving Health Through Collaboration” the session featured a compelling presentation by Washington State’s Dr. Russell Maeir on “Engaging Primary Care in Prevention”. And Virginia’s Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Resources presented a set of data that demonstrated both the serious impact of poor dental care on the health of Virginians, and the significant financial costs of poor oral health care.

The 100 participants – representing some of Virginia’s major academic communities and professional associations, and health-centered nonprofits, as well as practicing dental and medical professionals – spent the rest of the day working through the development of a short-term, actionable plan to change the landscape. From the way we teach students in the health professions to the way established doctors and dentists do their work, from redesigned IT systems and modifications to the insurance standards, from the way patients and the community learn about the importance of oral health, no stone was left unturned.

By July, the VOHC team hopes to have developed a substantive plan that will be implemented collaboratively across Virginia with hundreds of partners. The belief is that system-wide change can happen by pulling strategically on three major levers – professional education, consumer awareness, and policy change.

As always, it is powerful and humbling to be able to support organizations that are out to do serious, game-changing work.