Collaboration between dental practitioners and non-dental primary care providers has the potential to improve oral health care for people in rural and remote communities, where access to oral health services is limited. However, there is limited research on collaboration between these professional disciplines. The purpose of this paper was to explore the relationships between dental practitioners and non-dental primary care providers from rural and remote areas of Queensland and to identify strategies that could improve collaboration between these disciplines from the perspective of dental participants.
Semi-structured interviews were conducted between 2013 and 2015 with visiting, local and regional dental practitioners (n = 12) who had provided dental services to patients from eight rural and remote Queensland communities that did not have a resident dentist. Participants were purposely recruited through a snow ball sampling technique. Interview data were analysed using thematic analysis with the assistance of QSR Nvivo v.10.
Four major themes emerged from the data: (1) Communication between dental practitioners and rural primary care providers; (2) Relationships between dental and primary care providers; (3) Maintenance of professional dualism; (4) Strategies to improve interprofessional relationships (with subthemes: face to face meetings; utilisation of technology; oral health training for primary care providers; and having a community based oral health contact person). Participants observed that there was a lack of communication between the dental providers who saw patients from these rural communities and the primary care providers who worked in each community. This was attributed to poor communication, the high turnover of staff and the siloed behaviours of some practitioners. Visiting dental practitioners were likely to have stronger professional relationships with hospital nursing, administrative and allied health care staff who were often long term residents of the community.
The findings suggest that there was little relationship between the dental personnel and primary care providers. Interprofessional collaboration between dental care providers and non-dental rural primary care providers in the rural and remote communities sampled could be improved by having regular face to face meetings between practitioners from across the health disciplines, providing oral health education to primary care providers, establishing and maintaining effective communication and referral pathways, and exploring a greater role for tele-dentistry.