July 16, 2014

A new Institute of Medicine discussion paper, co-authored by Dr. Alice Horowitz in the University of Maryland School of Public Health, advocates for dentists to provide patients with written "after visit summaries," a document that provides relevant and actionable information and instructions, and suggests that this is an important tool to help improve oral health and general health literacy for all patients.

Dr. Horowitz, research associate professor in the Department of Behavioral and Community Health and the Horowitz Center for Health Literacy, articulates in the IOM publication, "After Visit Summaries: A Tool Whose Time Has Come for Use in Dentistry" that oral health providers are key members of the multidisciplinary health team and that there is a need for closer integration between dentistry and medicine on all levels of the healthcare system.

The paper describes that because people receive and process information differently and act on changing life and health practices when they are ready, it is important that dentists ask patients directly how they learn best and to provide a variety of educational materials in plain and culturally appropriate language which can help patients understand their health conditions and guide them to self manage their chronic diseases.

The notion of after visit summaries came into the foreground as a result of the electronic health record incentive program called "meaningful use," yet the authors assert that after visit summaries are not well-known or commonly used among dental practices in the United States. Dr. Horowitz and her colleagues argue that this is a missed opportunity for oral health education. Given the interconnectedness of oral health with a variety of systemic conditions, incorporating after visit summaries into dental practices could serve as an important care coordination tool for the patients and the multidisciplinary teams inside and outside of the health system, the authors argue.

Dr. Horowitz is an expert on the intersection of health literacy and oral health. In 2010, Dr. Horowitz was appointed to the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Oral Health Initiative.

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After Visit Summaries: A Tool Whose Time Has Come for Use in Dentistry

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Alice Horowitz