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Chairside medical screenings could save $102 million a year

March 03, 2014

 

Screening for diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol in the dental office could save the health care system up to $102.6 million each year, according to a study published by the ADA Health Policy Resources Center.

HPRC staff looked at data from a number of sources to estimate the cost savings associated with conducting medical screenings in the dental office among adults 40 and older who had undiagnosed diabetes, hypercholesterolemia or hypertension. These patients had no reported history of coronary heart disease or diabetes, no disease specific risk factors, were not taking medication for the conditions, and had not seen a physician in the past year.

The HPRC researchers, including Kamyar Nasseh, Ph.D., Barbara Greenberg, Ph.D., Marko Vujicic, Ph.D., managing vice president of HPRC, and Dr. Michael Glick, editor of the Journal of the American Dental Association, published their findings in the Feb. 13 issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

The authors estimated that the screenings could save anywhere from $42.4 million per year, or $13.51 per person screened, to $102.6 million, or $32.72 per person. The range depends on whether the patients actually visit their physician's office after being referred by their dentist.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 7.8 percent of the U.S. population has undiagnosed hypertension, 2.7 percent has undiagnosed diabetes and 8.2 percent has undiagnosed high cholesterol.

"As we dentists know, leaving conditions undiagnosed and untreated typically leads to more expensive procedures down the road," said ADA President Charles Norman. "The same goes for medical conditions, and if dentists can help catch some of these earlier, we're helping not only the patient save money down the road but the health care system as a whole."

The CDC says about half of all adults suffer from chronic illnesses, which account for more than 75 percent of health care costs and 70 percent of deaths each year in the United States. Based on a Gallup survey, chronic diseases cost the country $153 billion annually in lost productivity.

"As many as 27 million people visit a dentist but not a physician in a given year," said Dr. Nasseh, lead author. "This presents an opportunity for dentists to be part of an integrated health care team working to combat chronic illnesses."

To view a more detailed version of the Screening for Chronic Diseases in the Dental Office graphic, visit HPRC Research Briefs.