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ADEA Educational Research and Analysis — July 2014

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ADEA Education Research and Analysis (ADEA ERA) staff members attended the Academy of Health Annual Research Meeting in San Diego June 8–10. The meeting convenes 2,400 attendees made up of health services researchers, providers, clinicians, graduate students and research analysts who discuss current health policy trends. This year’s sessions focused heavily on Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs), Patient-Centered Medical Homes (PCMHs), delivery models, outreach for at-risk populations, advocacy and policy issues.

Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), these ACOs seek to reduce costs by encouraging providers to deliver care more efficiently. ACOs strive to achieve the ACA’s triple aim: improve population health, reduce health care costs and improve patient experiences. These organizations are financially incentivized to be more efficient by meeting quality benchmarks, particularly in managing patients with chronic diseases.

Every ACO varies in structure, and each incorporates oral health in a different manner. In fact, many patients are unaware that they’re a part of an ACO because most outreach is directed at providers and policy-makers. With the incorporation of oral health, some ACOs directly employ dentists; however, most contract with dental offices or create a referral system, and some simply have no structured way to address patients’ oral health needs.

Presenters expressed that shared cost-saving incentives may diminish over time, so the current ACO model is a journey and a pivot point toward the future. Each care model is experimenting with how to best incorporate other health disciplines, such as vision, behavioral and mental health, into its primary health system.

Currently, some ACOs are finding it challenging to access dentists that participate in these new models. However, dental students today are being educated to work within larger health care systems, such as an ACO. Patients from underserved and vulnerable patient populations benefit from the dental care that is provided in these unique models.

In the current political landscape, strategic approaches have been taken to educate Congress about the importance of health services research. Health delivery is positively impacted by continued funding of health services research.

The conference provided real-time updates about the latest research and public policy issues. It highlights the opportunities for oral health to be integrated into the changing health care delivery system.