A multi-method model for evaluating an innovative NSW priority oral health program – A case study

The NSW Department of Health, Oral Health Branch and the AIHW Dental Statistics and Research Unit (DSRU) have entered into a collaborate initiative to evaluate an innovative NSW Oral Health Branch triage system to prioritise patients seeking oral health care. DSRU is evaluating the efficacy of the new system in allocating urgency codes to oral health conditions according to patients self-defined criteria. Losses to the system, effects of various waiting times on oral health and treatments required, oral health impact upon daily functioning and ultimately measures of client and staff satisfaction with the program are also included in the evaluation.

The Priority Oral Health Program (POHP) allows patients to initially define their own need for care. Epidemiological methodologies, psychosocial and satisfaction measures and temporal calculations of actual waiting time for treatment are employed in the evaluation process. POHP employed a ranking system whereby more points, and hence priority, are given to those individuals with a serious medical or dental condition as well as those from population subgroups where research shows the existence of greatest health inequalities and need. By identifying both social and dental characteristics of those waiting in the various codes, POHP is a pragmatic and potentially equitable approach to manage access to oral health care.

The paper seeks to address comparisons between the triage methods, ie POHP versus traditional chronological queuing, and asks what are the outcomes of prioritising patients according to subjective need relative to clinically defined need. Can we be sure of what we are really measuring when oral health status and the social and general health impact of oral health changes over time and definitive diagnosis of oral health conditions remains elusive?

K Jones*, A Patterson, AJ Spencer, KF Roberts-Thomson, L Luzzi.

Presented at the Australasian Evaluation Society International Conference, 10-12 October 2001, Canberra, Australia

Note: * indicates presenter

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