Evaluating a dental diagnostic terminology in an electronic health record

Joel M. White, Elsbeth Kalenderian, Paul C. Stark, Rachel L. Ramoni, Ram Vaderhobli, Muhammad F. Walji

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Standardized treatment procedure codes and terms are routinely used in dentistry. Utilization of a diagnostic terminology is common in medicine, but there is not a satisfactory or commonly standardized dental diagnostic terminology available at this time. Recent advances in dental informatics have provided an opportunity for inclusion of diagnostic codes and terms as part of treatment planning and documentation in the patient treatment history. This article reports the results of the use of a diagnostic coding system in a large dental school's predoctoral clinical practice. A list of diagnostic codes and terms, called Z codes, was developed by dental faculty members. The diagnostic codes and terms were implemented into an electronic health record (EHR) for use in a predoctoral dental clinic. The utilization of diagnostic terms was quantified. The validity of Z code entry was evaluated by comparing the diagnostic term entered to the procedure performed, where valid diagnosis-procedure associations were determined by consensus among three calibrated academically based dentists. A total of 115,004 dental procedures were entered into the EHR during the year sampled. Of those, 43,053 were excluded from this analysis because they represent diagnosis or other procedures unrelated to treatments. Among the 71,951 treatment procedures, 27,973 had diagnoses assigned to them with an overall utilization of 38.9 percent. Of the 147 available Z codes, ninety-three were used (63.3 percent). There were 335 unique procedures provided and 2,127 procedure/diagnosis pairs captured in the EHR. Overall, 76.7 percent of the diagnoses entered were valid. We conclude that dental diagnostic terminology can be incorporated within an electronic health record and utilized in an academic clinical environment. Challenges remain in the development of terms and implementation and ease of use that, if resolved, would improve the utilization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)605-615
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of dental education
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2011


  • Dental education
  • Dental school clinic
  • Dentistry
  • Diagnostic codes
  • Diagnostic terminology
  • Electronic health record

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • General Dentistry


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