Nov 1, 1995
Patient outcomes form one part of the classic triad used to define quality of care: structure, process, and outcome. Outcomes research in dentistry should focus on global questions such as: What difference does dental care make to a patient? Do patients derive perceptible benefits from their dental care? What dental treatments work the best? Like programs or other courses of action, treatment outcomes are considered on three levels: the policy level, which asks, "Are we doing the right things for our target population, given our resources?" program evaluation, in which specific program objectives are set in terms of achievement or maintenance of certain rates and measures; and the individual patient level, in which specific physiologic, psychological, and sociological measures are used to determine individual treatment outcomes. Each level of evaluation can use treatment outcomes or oral health status measures as evaluation criteria. Clinicians routinely face the challenge of providing "appropriate" care to older veterans--a concept that considers the accuracy of risk assessment and diagnosis as well as treatment outcomes (such as the relative effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of alternative treatment strategies, together with the short- and longer-term physiologic and psychological results). Outcomes research is even more challenging when considering its application in older populations whose physical, social, and psychological health are increasingly interrelated and variable with age. Thus, outcomes research, and particularly research on the appropriateness of care, must consider the values and preferences (utility) of those outcomes for older veterans and their families. Optimal oral health outcomes can be achieved through invigorated oral health services research to better understand patients' preferences related to dental treatment decisions, to define oral health outcomes incorporating these preferences, and to assess the effectiveness of the current dental delivery system and its various components, including the appropriate mix of dental providers and allied health personnel, emerging technologies, and innovative prevention and health promotion strategies. An administrative structure and incentives should be established to support dental health services and outcomes research within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). A dental service network with an oversight board could be established to evaluate issues related to treatment outcomes. Alternatively, a Geriatric Research Education and Clinical Center devoted to the improvement of the quality of VA dental care and the oral health care delivery system could be established.