Imagine going to a three-in-one clinic where you can carry your sick cat in one arm, your chipped tooth in your hand, and the other arm ready for a flu shot.
When a patient comes to an office, regardless of whether it is a dentist, doctor, or vet, one of the first questions that the clinician will ask is, “What is your primary concern today?” You might tell them that you’re here for a toothache, but thoughts of your sick pet might actually be at the forefront of your mind. In some cases, a patient’s pet’s health issues may also be an indication of an issue that is causing problems for the patient as well. For example, if there is a local water system contamination, and your pet drinks the same tap water that you drink, the pet may exhibit health problems at the same time or before you do. At Tufts School of Dental Medicine, we are striving to create an environment at Sharewood, one of our free health clinics that merge medical, dental and veterinary sciences. This project is based off of an idea called the One Health Initiative.
The concept of One Health emphasizes how inter-professional collaborations can make the transmission of health information more efficient. In addition, by increasing flow and exchange of knowledge, we hope to see an accelerated pace of developments and discoveries in research projects in all disciplines. For example, the Zika virus and Ebola are both health threats in recent news that have etiologies outside of human-to-human contact and origin. By monitoring the trends of animal health, we may be able to better prevent outbursts of disease such as the 2014 Ebola outbreak, or find a way to prevent transmission of the Zika virus through mosquitoes. Having resources to connect clues and information between animal health and environmental issues and human healthcare will hopefully allow us to discover the source of our health problems faster.
Currently, Sharewood houses rooms for medical students and dental students to separately screen and examine patients from the greater Boston area. Dental and medical school students share one facility to provide a variety of services such as oral health screenings, STI screenings and flu shots. Presently, there is little collaboration between the medical and dental school students, but we are in the very early stages of organizing students from all three schools into one group. We hope to form an ongoing conversation and collaboration between multiple allied health students to learn about the importance of sharing health information, a concept that stemmed from an initiative called OneHealth. Realistically, we may not be able to incorporate a vet clinic into Sharewood, but we hope that increasing collaboration between dental and medical students will make Sharewood a more effective and efficient clinic. In addition, with increased communication with veterinarian school students, we hope to learn more about how animal health is related to human health so we can increase our knowledge database to become better clinicians.
In the future, we hope to be able to work with public health students as well, and even environmental health so that we can all benefit by learning more from each other’s specialties. One of the key concepts of One Health is to expand what we know so that we can make bigger picture connections, and by doing this we can improve healthcare education and research. At Tufts, we are lucky to have the resources to collaborate with the medical school and veterinary school. We hope that other schools can make the One Health concept a reality in our healthcare and research system.
Anne-Marie Vu, Tufts