As part of the IOHA long-term initiative of leading efforts to integrate oral health into primary care settings across the state, we uncovered the need for a managed process that helps medical and dental providers connect their patients to appropriate care. With this concept in mind, we embarked on the creation of a statewide bi-directional medical-dental closed-loop referral network that addresses both access and prevention issues.

We believe that the IOHA Referral Network can improve access to high-quality healthcare by giving medical and dental providers a managed and professional referral resource to help their patients. We expect our efforts to encourage inter-professional communication and expand the “team” that is charged with the whole health of our citizens. The IOHA Referral Network provides referrals for any patient not covered by dental Medicaid. Idaho has a robust dental Medicaid referral process, but our state lacks a managed referral system that bridges the divide between medical and dental providers.

The Test Phase of the IOHA Referral Network began in April 2019, with a handful of medical providers and volunteer dentists who helped test the concept, processes, and expectations of the network. With the onset of COVID, we extended the Test Phase through 2020 with solid success. Provider surveys offered insight that the concept was valuable and the technical system wasn’t overly onerous, but, as with many other referral programs, patient follow-through continues to be of concern. In 2021, the IOHA used grants from the Dental Trade Alliance and Patterson Dental Foundation to move into the Pilot Phase to expand our geographic area, formalize processes, and recruit more medical and dental providers. Unfortunately, in late 2021, the IOHA Referral Network was put on hold due to the pandemic.

The IOHA Referral Network is owned and operated by the Idaho Oral Health Alliance and is accessible only to medical and dental providers who have signed participant agreements with the IOHA and agree to comply with Network operating guidelines and expectations. There is no IOHA fee for patients, and while there is also no fee for providers who participate, we hope each will join as an IOHA organizational member.

We expect that, by creating this system, we will remove a significant barrier to oral health integration, enhance access to preventive care, and help our healthcare providers work together for the overall health of their patients and that of our communities.