Center for Dental Informatics

Contact: Titus Schleyer, DMD, PhD: cdi@pitt.edu For immediate release (01/25/2010)

Dr. Titus Schleyer elected to the American College of Medical Informatics (ACMI)

Dr. Titus Schleyer, associate professor and director of the Center for Dental Informatics (CDI), is the first dentist in nearly twenty years to be elected into the American College of Medical Informatics (ACMI). He is one of four dentists to join the elite college of fellows from across the United States and abroad who have made significant and sustained contributions to the field of medical informatics.

"That was quite a surprise, but of course it feels very good and I think it validates the growth of dental informatics more than it validates my contribution, so I was very pleased," said Dr. Schleyer in response to receiving notice of his election. Dr. Schleyer has directed Pitt's CDI since 2002 and has been instrumental in the dental school's recent implementation of its electronic dental record system. However, that is just one small part of his vision for dental informatics. One of his goals as a fellow of the ACMI is to work toward a closer integration of information used in dental and medical care. Because recent research has shown greater possibility of connections between dental health and systemic health, Dr. Schleyer believes that informatics can help physicians and dentists to work together better through sharing relevant portions of standardized records.

"I'm going to work on these kinds of integration issues and hopefully get some of the top-level medical informatics researchers interested in some dental problems and basically continue the collaborative work that I've been doing in informatics for many, many years," he said.

While medical informatics has yielded innovations and progress in terms of how physicians use computers in clinical care, the same innovations cannot be easily applied to dental informatics.

"While there are many commonalities between dentistry and medicine in terms of how clinical care is delivered and practiced, there are enough differences so that you can't simply take medical computer-based patient records and put them in a dental office and expect that to actually work," said Dr. Schleyer. "The idea is to help advance dental informatics by building on the relevant accomplishments of medical informatics." Dentistry focuses primarily on the head, neck, and mouth unlike other disciplines in medicine.

"For example, dentists are very spatially focused. We think in 3-D a lot. When you think of how to restore a tooth, you have to imagine that tooth in 3-D, you can't do that in 2-D." While other areas of medicine such as neurosurgery have 3-D imaging requirements, Dr. Schleyer said that a tool for 3-D brain imaging would not work for oral and craniofacial structures out-of-the-box. One of his current projects is integrating 3-D representations of oral and craniofacial structures with electronic dental records. The goal of this project is to create a true-to-life 3-D model that can be rotated for a 360-degree view of a patient's dentition that is annotated with clinical data.

Dr. Schleyer and CDI researchers also are studying ways to make computer systems more useful in the clinical setting. One CDI research project is aimed at improving voice recognition by increasing the flexibility of vocabulary for dental diagnostics so that dentists can use natural language when dictating findings. Current commercial voice recognition systems for dentistry require very specific commands to record data into the system, and tend to be difficult to learn and use. A natural language-based system, on the other hand, will allow anyone to enter clinical data with little or no training.

Another CDI project, the General Dental Information Model, intends to develop a standardized information model to improve the content and structure of general dental records. "Currently we don't have any standards for dental patient records. And we need those if we look at patient information not as an island that every practitioner possesses, but as something that can be exchanged and transmitted to other people who then can do something useful with it."

Dr. Schleyer will be working with the American Dental Association Standards Committee for Dental Informatics and the American Association for Dental Research to determine how these standards should be developed. Once the standards are established, they will be made available to the dental community for adoption.

"We're working with a lot of people on these standards, so hopefully they will be general enough so that they will actually fit practical requirements," said Dr. Schleyer. "We try to never loose sight of the practitioners and their needs - doing so is essential for making dental informatics relevant to its larger audience."