Key Concept: Health Information Technology

A variety of oral health IT tools exist, including electronic health records and electronic dental records, electronic prescribing, and practice management systems, that when implemented properly can streamline workflows, improve care coordination, and allow for more effective measurement of basic health indicators. The checklist below, adapted from the Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA) Oral Health IT Toolbox, can help you achieve these three goals. HRSA’s Health IT Implementation Toolbox also provides comprehensive steps for implementing health IT systems.

  • Conduct a readiness assessment on your financial and staffing capacity, facility infrastructure, and overall program stability.
  • Identify and begin conversations with stakeholders (internal and external) that will use or will benefit from the technology.
  • Build and train a team that includes a sponsor or team lead (e.g., chief operating officer), a project manager, support staff, a clinical champion, and technology super users.  
    • Identify people to conduct training before, during, and after technology launch.
    • Prepare and carry out a training plan that addresses gaps in staff members’ capabilities.
  • Prepare a communication plan that lays out protocols for transferring information using the technology, and put it into action.
  • Collaborate with regional- or state-based resources (e.g., Health Center Controlled Networks, State Health Information Exchange Networks, eHealthRegional Extension Centers), identifying opportunities for interoperability with other health care organizations in your community to share relevant health information. The Interoperability: The Key to Exchanging Health Information section in HRSA’s toolkit outlines the basics of electronic health records interoperability, and page 3 of this briefing (PDF) by the National Academy for State Health Policy provides an example of electronic health records–electronic dental records integration.
  • Identify recommended IT vendors by contacting regional- or state-based resources as well as program providers that have implemented a similar technology previously, and select one that fits your needs.
    • Identify desired capabilities for your technology. For electronic health records or electronic dental records systems, standard functions include client demographic information, medical history, and alerts and reminders.
    • Customize your data collection, clinical decision support, or other system functions based on your organization’s needs.
    • Consult the Implementation Go-Live Planning Checklist before launch. Rehearse implementation processes, conduct a full-scale pilot test with the vendor, and develop a backup plan in the event the launch fails.
  • Implement privacy and security safeguards, including training staff, limiting access to sensitive data, and employing both administrative and technical protection measures.

In addition to the implementation tips above, developing an evaluation plan for your technology is important. You should analyze the findings from your evaluation and optimize your technology based on strengths and weaknesses. Optimization techniques could include providing new training, updating software, and refining workflows.