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Progress Notes

Dr. Nancy Burkhart

Dr. Nancy Burkhart,
adjunct associate professor
in periodontics and
one of the leaders of the
International Oral Lichen
Planus Support Group,
addresses an online
audience through a small
microphone during a
Sept. 15 webinar.

Photo by Steven Doll

Using technology to address the emotional considerations of a complex disease

In these Q-and-A sessions, we take a closer look at some pressing topics within the dental profession and just what they mean to Texas A&M Health Science Center Baylor College of Dentistry. From TAMHSC-BCD initiatives to hot-button questions, we consult the college’s own subject matter experts to get their input.

This issue includes the perspectives of Dr. Nancy Burkhart, adjunct associate professor in periodontics, who — along with Dr. Terry Rees, professor and director of the college’s Stomatology Center — leads the web-based International Oral Lichen Planus Support Group. Sponsored by TAMHSC-BCD, the group is 5,000 members strong and began meeting via webinar in October 2010 after the Texas Dental Association offered the webinar platform’s licensing to dental schools statewide.

Since the support group converted from a chat room format that typically garnered a couple dozen participants each session, Burkhart and Rees have seen participation climb to upward of 200 attendees during some webinars, all of which offer slide shows and a guest speaker’s audible presentation instead of just rolling text on a screen.

It’s a technological advancement for the group, which is approaching its 15th year, but what added emotional and psychological support has this enhancement offered oral lichen planus patients for the past several months?

Just in time for the support group’s Dec. 8 webinar, Burkhart addresses how the webinars combat isolation while offering much-needed information and a sense of community. We also get a glimpse into some exciting updates scheduled to come online in 2012.

BDRO: Aside from the technological benefits of using the webinar platform for the International Oral Lichen Planus Support Group, what emotional and psychological aspects of the disease does it address? In other words, just what benefits are in store for participants?

Burkhart: Patients are searching for answers to their treatment, their total health and the emotional component of a chronic disease. In our society today, we want quick answers, and we are accustomed to getting a prescription that brings about a cure. With the busy schedules of many dental and medical practitioners, there is little time to talk with patients to any degree. Most of the time, patients are just told to use their medication, accept that their condition is chronic and learn to live with it. I hear this all the time. When a patient is diagnosed with any disease, it is a shock, and the patient will usually have follow-up questions much later.

Of course, the practitioner is usually not available for that sort of thing. We are here 24/7 and there is much more time to offer emotional comfort and personally answer questions. Since lichen planus is intermittent, the patient may have bouts that come and go. This is often very unsettling. They may think it has subsided, and then it is back again. We often hear from family members who are searching for their children, parents, siblings, etc.

BDRO: In what ways do you and Dr. Rees work together to make the support group and its webinars an informative and helpful resource for oral lichen planus patients?

Burkhart: We both answer questions. Sometimes the patients are newly diagnosed, and often, we hear from patients who have been contacting us for years. There is a strong emotional component to any rare disease. Patients often do not know anyone else who has lichen planus, so they may just need someone to listen. 

BDRO: It’s been a big year for the International Oral Lichen Planus Support Group, considering the switch to a webinar format. What else is in the works for 2012?

Burkhart: We hope to have some outstanding guests that will add to the information about lichen planus. We would like to add a list of practitioners to whom we have referred patients over the years and hope to add some relevant articles to the site with updates on “Lichen Lady’s Lookout,” as well as a demographic survey. 

Those interested in making a donation to the International Oral Lichen Planus Support Group can go to www.iolpdallas.org and click on “Give Today.”


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