Center for Dental Informatics

Contact: Heiko Spallek, DMD, PhD, MSBA(CIS): hspallek@pitt.edu for immediate release (3/11/2011)

National Institute for Dental and Craniofacial Research Funds Research Project Involving Pittsburgh Dentists

PITTSBURGH, March 11 - The Center for Dental Informatics at the School of Dentistry, University of Pittsburgh, has received $190,000 in federal funding for an exploratory research project titled "Implementing Research Findings and Evidence-Based Interventions into Real-World Dental Practice Settings."

With the award, the National Institute for Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) will support research that examines the integration of evidence-based (EB) interventions among practicing dentists. Dr. Heiko Spallek, principal investigator of the project, expects that findings from this project will allow for more efficient delivery of information about treatment guidelines to dentists. The project will facilitate the translation of research findings into clinical practice to improve patient outcomes, a long-standing goal of the National Institute of Health (NIH).

Dr. Spallek, who has been working in the field of dental informatics since 1996 and is Associate Professor at the Center for Dental Informatics and Associate Dean for Faculty Development and Information Management, has assembled a strong team of Pitt researchers as well as external experts to find new ways to translate research findings into dental practice. Dr. Jean O’Donnell, the lead co-investigator on the project who started her career as a nurse and is now Associate Dean for Education and Curriculum at the School of Dental Medicine, says that "Currently, dentistry lags behind medicine with respect to promotion of research findings and EB knowledge in clinical settings. During the next two years we will try to redress this disparity by developing informatics solutions for a more efficient delivery of current information to general dentists."

The Pitt research team will first try to understand barriers that make it difficult for practicing dentists to implement new findings and guidelines into their everyday practice. The team will then develop prototypical informatics solutions with the help of various experts and consultants, among them Julie Frantsve-Hawley, Director of the Center for Evidence-Based Education at the American Dental Association (ADA). Finally, the researchers will deploy these solutions with a limited number of dentists in the Pittsburgh region. "We need to learn proper ‘packaging’ for these complex guidelines," Dr. Spallek says, "so dentists can use them right there when they have a patient in the chair. A dental office is a dynamic environment where many things happen simultaneously in rapid fashion by a team which usually includes a dentist, dental hygienist and ancillary personnel. Practitioners have no time to read 10-page instruction manuals on how to assess caries risk factors before deciding whether to seal the tooth’s surface, or drill and fill. Our prototype implementations might range from reminders visible to the dentist at the back of the dental chair to complex risk assessments at the front desk which are ready to use when the patient sits down in the operatory."

The results from this research will help the Pitt team determine which of these prototype solutions are feasible and prepare them for a planned follow-up study during which they will compare the effectiveness of various implementations in dental practice across the country. This project will contribute to the development of next-generation electronic dental record systems for dentists. These new systems are expected to leverage technology to overcome perceived and real barriers to the acceptance of EB dental practice guidelines.

More details about Dissemination and Implementation Research in Health (R21) are available from the NIH.