Dental Informatics Research

Dental informatics is the application of computer and information science to improve dental practice, research, education and management, and it is a sub-discipline of biomedical informatics. Many confuse dental informatics with the mere application of computers (=information technology).  Informatics is a research discipline, and much of its basic research is about information, not computers. The methods used in this research come from fields such as information science, computer science, cognitive science and telecommunications. Eventually, many innovations in the informatics field are translated into computer programs or devices, and that is where informatics becomes information technology.

Digital imaging and image processing, computer-based dental records, clinical decision support and teledentistry are only some examples of research topics in dental informatics.

Current Research Projects

Electronic Health Records

  • Cloud Technology To Improve Dentistry - The Center is currently involved in refining and implementing a cloud-based, electronic health record system. This system will support the extensive educational and research needs of dental schools. Three dental schools, the University of Michigan School of Dentistry, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Dentistry, and University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine, are partners with the ICE Health Systems and Internet2. This next-generation, electronic health record system offers data sharing opportunities for large-scale research projects with the aim of improving patient outcomes. (See http://www.internet2.edu//products-services/cloud-services-applications/ice-health-systems/)
  • EHR Incentive Program and Meaningful Use - The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 established a program to provide incentive payments to eligible providers who adopt, implement, upgrade, or meaningfully use federally-certified EHR systems. With the help of the Center, the SDM has become a national leader in the EHR Incentive Program arena, together with other dental schools, such as Harvard and Rutgers. After meeting Stage 1 criteria for meaningful use (data capture and sharing), the Center now focuses on SDM usage of an EHR system to meet Stage 2 criteria (advanced clinical processing). In the future, dental informatics will be essential in developing systems to meet Stage 3 criteria (better quality, safety, and efficiency) to improve health outcomes.

Educational Projects

  • NIH Center of Excellence in Pain Education - The National Institutes of Health Pain Consortium designated Centers of Excellence in Pain Education in health professional schools. The University of Pittsburgh is one of eleven schools chosen nationally to receive the designation under the leadership of Debra Weiner, MD. The Center supports the instructional technology aspects of this large-scale attempt to develop, evaluate, and distribute curricular resources to enhance pain education for healthcare professionals. Center faculty and staff integrate video-based learning modules into an advanced electronic learning management system (vpSim) for the pre-doctoral curriculum of all participating schools at the University of Pittsburgh. This effort provides a wide range of educational opportunities. The six inter-professional, web-based educational modules developed for this project will reach nearly 700 new students each year. The Health Science Centers are hubs for the instructional technology backbone of Pittsburgh’s Center of Excellence in Pain Education. (See http://www.utimes.pitt.edu/?p=24745)
  • Case-based Simulation Environment to Improve Translation of Evidence-based Dental Research into Practice - In collaboration with William Rush, PhD, and the HealthPartners Institute for Education and Research, the Center supports development and testing of a case-based simulated encounter system to translate the latest research evidence into dental practice. Dentists will treat simulated patients with either chronic heart failure (CHF) and/or xerostomia over a series of encounters making a wide range of treatment decisions and receiving immediate feedback. We will test the effectiveness of this system with respect to changing dentists’ behavior when treating patients with various conditions, such as CHF.
  • Biomedical Informatics Online Certificate Program - The Biomedical Informatics Online Certificate Program (OCP) is a 15-credit (minimum) experience developed in collaboration with the Department of Biomedical Informatics at the School of Medicine. The Center supports the OCP by converting existing face‑to-face lectures to an online format using evidence-based educational principles. We also produce video-based marketing material about the program and its courses. (See http://www.dbmi.pitt.edu/content/online-certificate-program )
  • E-Portfolios for Dental Education—Evidence that Learning Has Taken Place - E-portfolios are digital repositories of students’ lives, both academic and personal. They offer dental educators opportunities for formative and summative assessments and for students, opportunities for integrated, self-reflective, self-directed, and longitudinal learning. The Center supports the instructional technology aspects of the SDM plan for integration of e-portfolios into global student assessment. The integration of e-portfolios into dental education opens myriad questions, from software, infrastructure, and evaluation strategies to HIPAA compliance, teacher training and workload management, as well as portfolio access beyond the dental school. The Center explores these questions as a member of the Consortium for Oral Health Research and Informatics (COHRI). Dr. Spallek serves as chair of the COHRI Education Steering Committee. (See http://cohri.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/COHRI-Newsletter-Jan-2013-Vol-3-Issue-1.pdf )
  • The Consortium for Oral Health Research and Informatics - In 2010, the SDM became a member of COHRI, allowing its students and faculty to benefit from the interactions and power of many institutions. Members of COHRI work together to create, standardize, and integrate data in electronic health records; improve informatics solutions in dental education, healthcare, and research; develop research projects to promote evidence-based dentistry; define standards of care; and facilitate implementation of best practices. Dr. Spallek is a member of the COHRI Board of Directors. The SDM is the fifth school nationwide to join the COHRI BigMouth Dental Data Repository (DDR)—an oral health database developed from electronic health records contributed by dental schools. The DDR enables students and faculty to query more than 1.5 million de-identified oral health records for clinical research. (See http://cohri.org/ and https://cohri.uth.tmc.edu/ and http://vimeo.com/fdim/cohri-bigmouth)
  • American Dental Association, Center for Evidence-based Dentistry - Dr. Weyant has been a consultant to this ADA Center for the last seven years. In this capacity, Dr. Weyant works with the Center’s critical evidence appraisal program that supports the online presentation of high quality, clinically relevant evidence for the dental practice community. In addition, Dr. Weyant is a member of the core faculty for the Champions program, which is in its sixth year of operations; this program provides hands-on training courses for dentists. Dr. Weyant is also a member of the onsite training team that brings evidence-based training to dental schools in the form of two-day, faculty development workshops.   
  • Evidence-based Dentistry Faculty Development Program - Dr. Weyant coordinates and provides the majority of teaching within a five-hour EBD faculty development program for SDM faculty. This program is beginning its third cycle of training, with the goal of providing EBD training to the majority of clinical faculty within the SDM.

Social Network

  • A Virtual and Global Community for Dental Informaticians - Funded by the US National Library of Medicine, the Center established the Dental Informatics Online Community (DIOC). Currently, DIOC has more than 1,500 members interested in dental medicine, informatics, and research. The online community connects people and promotes sharing of ideas, problems, and research opportunities. Moreover, DIOC offers a repository of research papers and resources. (See http://www.dentalinformatics.org/)

Software in Support of Evidence-based Dental Education

  • Credentialing Employees and Students: An Approach to Reduce Administrative Burden - Administrators acknowledge that credentialing employees and students can be very burdensome. As regulations change over time, schools struggle to find an efficient method for confirmation of credentials. The Credential Keeper, a cloud-based software application developed by the University of Pittsburgh, School of Dental Medicine, streamlines this credentialing process to reduce considerable burden. (See http://www.dental.pitt.edu/AboutCredentialKeeper/) Disclaimer: This software is in the commercialization phase; a Center investigator has a financial interest.
  • Curriculum Management Tool - Supporting dental education is one of the pillars of dental informatics research and practice. Managing a dynamic dental curriculum efficiently and effectively can be a daunting task without the assistance of technology. To eliminate redundancy and ensure proper sequencing in the curriculum as it continues to evolve, the Center created the Curriculum Management Tool (CMT) to enable rapid search through courses for topics and competencies. Not only can the CMT assist the Curriculum Committee in managing the curriculum, but also, faculty, students, and administrators who need to locate information. Disclaimer: This software is in the commercialization phase; a Center investigator has a financial interest.