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Improved Patient Services, Business Model with UCSF Dental Center Transformation

By Kate Vidinsky

UCSF associate professor Ling Zhan, DDS, PhD, shows Amayah Longoria, 7, and mom Alice Longoria dental imaging at the UCSF’s Pediatric Dentistry Faculty Clinic in Mission Bay. Photo by Noah Berger

The UCSF Dental Center is in the midst of a transformation. Now operating as a fully integrated dental clinical enterprise, the center is setting a new bar for patient care and service in the world of oral health care.

With improved patient communication tools and streamlined business operations, UCSF Dental Center will better serve its patients, while upholding the core institutional mission of providing world-class care, research and education.

Sunil Kapila, BDS, MS, PhD

“This is not an organizational restructuring, but rather a new delivery model designed to provide excellent clinical operations in a more patient-centered and efficient manner, while increasing our market presence,” said Sunil Kapila, BDS, MS, PhD, the center’s chief executive officer and chief dental officer. “We have always provided excellent care, but now we are making every effort to be cohesive in how we serve our patients.”

The rebranding establishes an integrated center that patients will recognize for its excellence, rather than merely knowing each of 22 individual clinics for its specialty within the UCSF School of Dentistry.

Noticeable Improvements to Patient Services

A push to shift the mindset of patients and employees alike has been years in the making, since the first official “UCSF Dental Center” banner was raised in 2015. Previously known as the UCSF School of Dentistry clinics, the center’s renaming represents a shift toward a more unified patient care environment along with a refreshed brand image.

According to UCSF School of Dentistry Dean John Featherstone, MSc, PhD, the idea of an integrated clinical enterprise is currently a foreign concept to most schools of dentistry, which tend to operate within silos of specialty care.

Since February, the center has implemented several key changes to patient services, with more to follow.

“We are actively creating an environment focused on outstanding patient experiences and care, and that has required some recalibration of the way we work,” Kapila said. “Clinically, when we provide care across boundaries and those boundaries are made more porous, we are not only able to deliver better patient care but also enhance the educational experiences to our students.”

John Featherstone talks to dentists in the UCSF Dental Center
UCSF School of Dentistry Dean John Featherstone (center), MSc, PhD, has overseen the Dental Center transformation. Photo by Noah Berger

The improvements include things such as an automated phone system that allows patients to reach the Dental Center instead of calling individual clinics for care. In addition, new sign-in kiosks currently being piloted will make the patient check-in process faster and easier.

The Dental Center’s website has also undergone improvements both in design and function. Patients can now request appointments, access forms and other valuable information, and securely message their providers.

With all of these improvements in place, the center now operates with a more service-oriented approach. Phone pickup rates have increased dramatically, follow-up calls are made diligently, referrals go through seamlessly, and patients are feeling more empowered, according to Arun Sharma, BDS, MS, who oversees the Center’s prosthodontics clinic and residency program.

“I think the biggest change I’ve noticed as a provider is that patients are getting to where they need to be faster and in a more efficient manner, and as a result, my practice and residency program are both running more smoothly,” Sharma said. “Patients now realize that they aren’t simply coming to a dental school for care, but rather a high-quality-care facility offering the best treatment with the best scientific evidence to support it.”

Integrating with UCSF Health

From a business perspective, UCSF Dental Center is rolling out several key improvements designed to promote fiscal growth, reduce waste and streamline care. Following in the footsteps of UCSF Medical Center, the dental center is adopting the LEAN management philosophy to help control costs while providing more value to patients.

UCSF Dental Center

The UCSF Dental Center is composed of 22 clinics that include specialties such as pediatrics, orthodontics, oral surgery and restorative dentistry.

“We are following UCSF Medical Center’s lead by reducing waste and cost and adding value all at once. This is how you run a successful business,” Featherstone said. “Increased clinical resources will be critical in helping the Dental School better meet its other primary missions of excellence in education and discovery.”

A newly standardized approach to financial reporting and account coding, for example, makes tracking expenses more straightforward and provides accurate and timely profit and loss reports. Patients also benefit by receiving universal billing statements that are common across clinics and easier to interpret.

One of the Dental Center’s highest priorities is to seamlessly integrate with the entire UCSF Health system within the next five years. This means a patient who has previously visited UCSF for a non-dental related issue will already be in the system when they come to UCSF Dental Center. Electronic health records of dental and medical center patients will be connected, leading to better case management, treatment and overall care.

“People often think dentistry is related just to teeth, but it’s way more than that,” Featherstone said. “Dentistry is also closely involved in our overall health. The mouth is the primary entranceway to the body and therefore a mirror of what’s going on more deeply within the body.”

A Longtime Leader and Now a Model for the Future

Both the UCSF School of Dentistry and UCSF Dental Center have long been global leaders in dental education and public health, clinical practice and scientific discovery.

Tanya Varimezova and Yuvika Raj Kumar work on a patient in the UCSF Dental Center
UCSF School of Dentistry students Tanya Varimezova (left) and Yuvika Raj Kumar work on a patient in the UCSF Dental Center. Photo by Susan Merrell

The School of Dentistry is the preeminent dental research enterprise in the world, having ranked first among all U.S. dental schools in NIH research funding every year since 1992. As one of the largest providers of dental care in the Bay Area, UCSF Dental Center sees 120,000 annual patient visits at locations throughout San Francisco, ranging from routine preventive checkups to the most advanced specialty care, all grounded in the School’s leading-edge research.

Now, with the re-envisioning of the dental clinics well underway, UCSF Dental Center is poised to better support UCSF’s overarching mission to advance health worldwide, while serving as a model for dental school clinical operations elsewhere.

“We should be pioneers in whatever we do. We should be leading the country and the world,” said Featherstone. “And when this is fully operational, we will indeed be leading the country in terms of managing the clinical aspects of our dental school.”