Spring 2015

Equal Access

Dental school joins efforts to remove language, cultural barriers to care

Visitors to One Kneeland Street can now find signs by the lobby elevators that provide a building directory in both English and Chinese. The School of Dental Medicine’s website includes information for patients in English, Chinese and Spanish.

These multilingual communications are some of the school’s first steps in adopting guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) designed to help eliminate health-care disparities by making it easier for patients from all backgrounds to access care and for providers to deliver that care.

The guidelines are known as the National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services in Health and Health Care, or CLAS. “The whole purpose of CLAS is to advance equity and improve quality,” says Nicole Holland, director of health communication, education and promotion at the dental school.

Holland heads a working group dedicated to assessing the school’s status with regard to CLAS, and devising a strategy for implementation of the guidelines. The group includes about a dozen representatives from the school’s clinical, IT, research, curriculum and administrative areas.

150324_16347_bilingual002.jpgThe HHS reports that “racial and ethnic disparities in health and health care remain a significant public health issue, despite advances in health care technology and delivery, even when factors such as insurance coverage, income and educational attainment are taken into account.” For example, it has been estimated that the combined cost of health disparities and deaths resulting from inadequate and/or inequitable care in the U.S. was $1.24 trillion between 2003 and 2006.

At the School of Dental Medicine, Holland says, the CLAS efforts will touch on many aspects of operations and overlap with other ongoing efforts in many cases. For instance, the curriculum has been revised to increase dental students’ understanding of the complex interplay between culture and health. Likewise, a federal initiative connected to the Affordable Care Act to enhance the collection of data on race, ethnicity and language in electronic health records—including the Axium system used in the dental school clinics—also aligns with CLAS.

“We’ll have a chance to learn who our patient population is, and that information will help to determine how to improve the quality of care we provide,” Holland says. For example, collecting data on languages spoken by patients could be useful in applying for grants to hire interpreters and formalizing the school’s interpretation program.

The CLAS standards “don’t seem to be a conversation within dentistry right now,” Holland says. “Tufts has an opportunity to help build that as a priority area, and that’s exciting.” —Helene Ragovin

Top Stories

Dental Art & Science

Maxillofacial prosthodontists help their patients overcome disfiguring trauma and rebuild their lives

One-Stop Health

Dentists upstairs, physicians downstairs. Integrated community clinics make it easier to care for patients—and for patients to take care of themselves

Myth Busters

There’s a lot of dubious data about dental care out there. Our experts offer advice for helping your patients separate fact from fiction

Maze of Questions

Five years after the passage of health-care reform, its impact on dentistry remains muddled 

Total Body Treatment

Tufts joins a select group in launching residency program in oral medicine 

Editor's Picks

Horton Returns

Seuss collector comes back with more lost stories

His Mother’s Demons

A bittersweet memoir of growing up in the shadow of mental illness

Visionary Work

Cells from dental pulp could be used to treat sight-stealing macular degeneration

Professional Allies

New course educates dentists and hygienists in tandem

A Dental ‘Oscar’

Clinics for patients with special needs win national award