Building a Health-Care Home

One patient, many providers— and a fresh approach to bringing it all together

The dentist eyes her patient’s red, spongy gums. she knows he was diagnosed some years ago with Type 2 diabetes, and now the condition of his mouth tells her that his blood-glucose levels are likely not as well-controlled as they should be.

Ideally, the patient would go off to see an endocrinologist, primary-care physician or nurse practitioner who, perhaps with the help of a registered dietitian or certified diabetes educator, would work to get his levels under control. Those looking toward the future, however, envision a time when dentists, physicians, nutritionists, nurses, pharmacists and a host of other health-care professionals are educated to work side by side in an integrated system that patients would know as their “health home.”

In concert with a trend gaining currency throughout academic dentistry, Tufts School of Dental Medicine is turning significant attention to this health-care model, known as interprofessional education, or IPE. It’s a future that in some ways is still slow in coming, and no one’s predicting the demise of the traditional dental practice. But it’s also a future that is just around the corner—and those responsible for sending new dentists into the world of 21st-century health care say the profession has to be prepared.

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