Background: Social work is an integral component of medical treatment, however dentistry has lagged in its adoption. This is a challenge because the risk factors that present as barriers to care are similar, yet the availability of insurance to cover dental care is lower than for medical care and thus a greater number of Americans lack resources to pay for needed dental care. The role of a social worker in the medical field is to address social inequalities and health disparities, a much-needed service for dental care. Dental disease disproportionality affects individuals with special health care needs, low socioeconomic status, underrepresented minorities, and those living in underserved rural, urban and frontier communities. Providing adequate care to these patients requires a complex biopsychosocial lens that takes into consideration the patient’s general health, financial situation, transportation needs, and psychological well-being, which social workers are uniquely trained to address. Academic dental institutions serving as a safety nets to under- and un-insured populations, educating the future dental workforce, and conducting cutting-edge research are tasked to create innovative, interdisciplinary solutions, such as the integration of social work, to eliminate health disparities and ensure the oral health of all Americans.
Objective: To investigate the value of interprofessional collaborative practice at academic dental institutions, specifically, the integration of social work into clinical and didactic curricula.
Design: Environmental scan of peer-reviewed and gray literature, including school websites; to be followed in Phase 2 by telephone interviews
Participants: Dental schools with social work (didatic or clinical programs); 13 participating schools (19% of academic institutions) with emphasis on 9 programs
Main Measures: (1) Program service areas: case management; patient counseling; interprofessional collaborative experience and multidisciplinary exposure; community outreach; patient advocacy; coordination of care; behavioral management, intervention, and de-escalation; community outreach, partnerships and health promotion; research; and patient retention (2) Participants involved, (3) Length of program, (4) Target Population, (5) Program Structure, and (6) Outcome Measures
Results: Most frequent program service areas were: interprofessional collaborative practice and multidisciplinary exposure; case management; patient counseling; behavioral management, intervention and de-escalation; and patient advocacy. Participants included social work graduate students(3); Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Master’s in Social Work, PhD in Social Work(5); and Other: Patient Advocates, Oral Health Project Counselors, PhD of Education (4). Longest program has been for 20 years, and the shortest has been for 1 year. Target populations include children(3), older populations (2) and at-risk/low-income populations (9). Program structures include didactic and clinical, and in-house programs and community-based programs. Examples of outcome measures includes: number of patients identified as experiencing barriers to care who were retained and received services after social work intervention, and increase in interprofessional practice and outreach to safety-net geriatric patients
Conclusion: The peer-reviewed and gray literature has documented the impact that social work can have within academic dentistry. Despite the published outcomes of the programs, there has been only a small increase in the number of academic dental institutions that have adopted an interprofessional collaboration approach with social work to provide patient-centered care. This pilot study serves as a starting point to incorporate qualitative telephone interviews for in-depth analysis of the 13 U.S. programs with social work components in their dental curriculum (and any additional dental programs that may be uncovered through these interviews) in order to frame the opportunity for dental education to improve their Academic Triple Aim – improved interprofessional education for students, improved care and experience for their patients, and improved access to care for safety net dental patients.