According to research published by Cancer Research UK, oral cancer rates are due to rise dramatically over the next two decades. Dental practitioners will be on the front lines, when it comes to early diagnosis. Cancer mortality rates may be dropping overall, but deaths from oral cancer are predicted to increase over the next few decades. Recently released new figures have been reported in the media and highlight this worrying trend.
It makes early detection and referral by dental practitioners more important than ever.Saving Faces runs an electronic diagnostic advice service for dentists.
The following is a report on the service and some comments from one of the dentists who has experience of the service.
“I can’t see a reason why every practice in the UK shouldn’t be signed up”
Volunteers from Saving Faces attended the British Dental Association Conference in Manchester this year to promote its fast-track diagnostic service that promises to dramatically improve the care of patients with suspected mouth cancer.
Three patients, Eileen Kane, Abul Khairat and Roy Hume, who explained the advantages of the diagnostic advice service to patients, and whose stories helped illustrate that there are cases that remain undiagnosed by dentists, also joined them on the stand.
Early diagnosis of mouth cancer increases the chances of survival from 50 per cent to 90 per cent. Primary care clinicians still occasionally miss cancer but more often don’t know the best surgeons to refer to in their locality. This wastes valuable time in starting treatment.
For just £3 a week*, the Saving Faces Diagnostic Advice Service (SFDADS) helps speed up the referral process and ensures referral to the most appropriate surgeons near to where the patient lives.
One dentist, who signed up to the service last summer, is Mark Kent. On the two occasions that he has used the service, he has received a detailed response by the end of the same day.
“I feel that this is a fantastic use of one’s resources,” said Dr Kent.
“It is amazingly reassuring from my point of view and means that I can provide an excellent service to my patients. This makes the cost of it almost irrelevant - I am investing in the care of my patients.
“Receiving an opinion from a specialist so quickly really helps allay patients’ fears. I can’t see a reason why every practice in the UK shouldn’t be signed up. I have used the service twice but I could have used it 100 times and the cost would remain the same.”
The dentist, who splits his time between Middlesex and central London and has been practising since 1983, said he first heard about the diagnostic service when lecturing at the Royal Society of Medicine about a year ago. He heard a presentation by oral and maxillofacial surgeon Prof Iain Hutchison, the founder of Saving Faces, and thought it sounded like a great idea.
Saving Faces Liaison Officer, Dr Louise Lemoine, said: “Dentists simply will never have the experience of looking at as many different lesions of the mouth as oral and maxillofacial (OMF) surgeons. The dentists that we spoke to at the conference were especially impressed by the fact that this service quickly reassures patients with benign disease whilst dealing promptly with those with mouth cancer.”
Participating dentists upload patient details and electronic images of suspect lesions onto a secure system. Their patient is guaranteed to receive an urgent diagnostic service from a consultant oral and maxillofacial surgeon within three days, meaning the dentist can rapidly reassure those with benign disease within days of seeing them. Those with serious disease are immediately referred to surgeons with the appropriate expertise at their nearest hospital.
Every penny raised from subscriptions will be used to fund the world’s first National Facial and Oral Research Study Centre (NFORSC). NFORSC’s work will improve treatment for all patients worldwide. The OMF surgeons receive no payment and are providing this service voluntarily. The donation can be claimed as a practice expense or, if given from a personal account, can be claimed back on tax. The dentist also transfers litigation risk to the OMF surgeon once the referral has been sent so there is never a risk of the dentist being sued by the patient. This is particularly important as a growing number of patients are taking legal action against dentists missing early cancers.
Each referral is evaluable for one hour’s CPD and dentists and their staff can also attend an annual free conference, which also contributes to their CPD requirements. And those signing up receive a Charter Mark Certificate of membership for their waiting room, as well as a poster showing photographs of common lesions and a desktop calendar listing the symptoms of mouth cancer to remind receptionists to give patients with these symptoms an urgent appointment.
* Saving Faces asks for a small subscription of £3 per week per dentist (or £9 per week for practices with three or more partners) payable by annual direct debit.
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