by Jim Delahanty, D.M.D. ('75)
Providing a patient care environment that is responsive to the public is a goal of NJDS's patient-centered, prevention- oriented, comprehensive clinical care.
To provide this patient-centered care and simultaneously carry out its mission of preparing tomorrow's dental practitioners, over the past nine years NJDS has developed a group practice program that attempts to simulate a large associate group practice. This program is structured to encourage the interaction of patients with students, faculty, and staff. Patients receive treatment based upon their oral health needs.
Within the comprehensive patient care system (CPCS), students are assigned to one of four group practices (Group A,B,C, or D) upon entering the clinic in their junior year. Each practice has a group practice administrator (GPA), a dental comprehensive care coordinator (DCC), a receptionist (who is shared by two groups), dental assistants, and clinical faculty from fixed and removable prosthodontics, periodontics, operative dentistry, diagnosis and treatment planning, and preventive dentistry.
The CPCS is designed to optimize a patient's clinical care, and to this end, each group practice is responsible for managing its assigned patients. The GPAs and DCCs monitor the treatment progress of all patients in their groups, as well as their students' progress in the delivery of care. "The most difficult area for students in their clinical education is the concept of efficient time management," says Dr. Joel Pascuzzi ( D'72), GPA for Group A and clinical professor of Periodontics. "The group practice program helps students learn to juggle their multiple obligations and deadlines."
Group A is slightly different from the other three groups in that it has two GPAs. Dr. Pascuzzi and Dr. Andrew Sullivan, a clinical professor of Periodontics, not only share responsibility for Group Athey've shared responsibility for two private dental offices over the past 25 years. Both part-time faculty and both holding certificates in periodontics, they bring a distinct private practice flavor to their group.
The CPCS is based upon disease prevention and health promotion. It is a prevention-oriented clinical care philosophy. "One great advantage of the comprehensive care system is that we finally have a really effective recall system," explains Group C GPA Dr. Ival McDermott, professor of clinical Prosthodontics and Biomaterials. "After their care has been completed, our patients are offered recall visits at appropriate intervals. At these visits, the patient receives a complete oral examination, radiographs if needed, and a prophylaxis or periodontal maintenance care. Any other needs are noted and scheduled to be done."
A major objective of the CPCSGroup Practice Model is to encourage and enhance students' ability to provide interdisciplinary care for their patients. This objective becomes possible because students are assigned their own cubicles or units within the group setting. "The group practice program fosters interdisciplinary treatment," explains Dr. Jeffrey Linfante ('90), Group B's GPA and clinical assistant professor of General and Hospital Dentistry. "My students and their patients have a faculty member from each department present during the clinic session. If we are working on completing a partial denture for a patient and we find that an abutment tooth requires a crown, it's a simple matter to bring over a faculty member from fixed prosthodontics to help out."
In addition to providing continuous, managed care to the patient, the group practice provides administrative and personal support for junior and senior dental students. "I truly believe that if a GPA had been present in 1988 when I first entered the clinic, it would have been a less intimidating and much smoother experience," says Dr. Fotinos Panagakos ('92), who was Group D's GPA for three years. "I can remember not too long ago when I was a student at NJDS, how challenging the clinic years were. The GPA is the one constant, as well as an advisor, in a student's third and fourth years."
This past summer, Dr. Panagakos, director of environmental safety, resigned from the GPA position to devote his time to other endeavors at the school, including the curriculum committee, which he chairs, and academic affairs. Dr. Michael Fitzpatrick, assistant professor of clinical Prosthodontics and Biomaterials, is the new GPA for Group D. Most recently a site director of the Community Oriented Dental Education (CODE) program, Dr. Fitzpatrick was also director of the Cronin Dental Center, part of the school's Statewide Network for Community Oral Health Care.
Providing quality, comprehensive care and an environment that is responsive to the public is part of the mission and goals of NJDS. "I believe we are providing comprehensive care in a timely manner to the patients that we see at NJDS," says Dr. Sullivan. "And equally important, we are preparing these young men and women to become quality-oriented dental practitioners."