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Robert Elsenpeter is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Dental Products Report and Dental Lab Products. He is also the author of 18 technology books, including the award-winning Green IT: Reduce Your Information System's Environmental Impact While Adding to the Bottom Line. As such, he’s particularly interested in the technological side of dentistry.
Reviewing your office’s infection control protocol will help to ensure the safety of your staff and your patients.
Observing the benefits of good infection control is a lot like discussing the benefits of wearing a seatbelt: It should be a no-brainer.
However, sometimes it’s beneficial to lay out exactly why practices should exercise good infection control. And, in addition to the seemingly obvious reasons, there are some you may not have considered.
Click through the slides to learn more.
It should go without saying that the whole point of infection control is to keep people safe – you, your patients, your employees and even their families.
“As flu season is approaching, it puts on my radar little bit more the immunization piece of dental infection control,” says Joyce Moore, RDH, an infection control consultant and clinical instructor at Bristol Community College in Fall River, Mass. “As people are coming into our practice, as a new employee, we have to consider if they’ve had their hepatitis B vaccinations. We know hepatitis B rates have gone down tremendously since that has become the norm. With our vaccines, we can prevent disease transmission which, of course, helps our practices by eliminating unnecessary work restrictions. Or, employees going in and getting patients sick. Or, on the flipside, patients coming in and getting employees sick who get their families sick.
“It’s far more cost-effective for us to consider immunization and vaccines for the diseases we can get vaccinated against,” she adds. “It’s far more effective than treating ill patients or trying to manage a large outbreak.”
Avoid official entanglements
If the altruism of keeping people safe isn’t enough, there’s also the protection of your pocketbook. There are different governmental entities that insist on good infection control practices, and failing to comply with the official rules and regulations may incur penalties.
“An obvious benefit to the doctor and practice in observing good infection control is that the practice remains in good standing with the state dental board,” says Karen Daw, an infection control consultant and former clinic health and safety director for The Ohio State University College of Dentistry. “The last thing you want to do is run afoul of the regulations in place designed to protect your patients. Repercussions of doing so can include fines, license suspension or revocation. And, the last time I checked, the dental board did not accept, ‘Well, I didn’t know I was supposed to be doing that,’ as a valid argument.
“Some states have inspectors that routinely investigate dental practices, but any more, your patients are just as likely to contact them if they observe poor infection control,” she continues. “They are much more educated and aware than I think some people give them credit for. I regularly tell the offices I consult with that a good practice will at least follow the minimum recommendations in infection control, while a great practice goes above and beyond and will even educate and invite their patients to be part of the conversation about safe care. And it could be good for business, too.”
“There’s also the added value benefit of a conscience at ease knowing there are no shortcuts being made when it comes to safety,” Daw says. “I once assisted an office with an infection control consult, and after advising that the manufacturer’s handpiece IFU clearly stated the motors were heat tolerant, and that the CDC recommendations include heat sterilizing between patients, the doctor balked that they’ve never sterilized, never had an issue and weren’t going to spend the money on additional motors. On the flip side, I advised another office of the same thing and when asked for their thoughts on the matter, the doctor paused before stating, ‘In this practice, we do the right thing. And if doing the right thing means it costs us a little more on supplies, I’ll chalk it up to the cost of doing business.’ I know I slept better knowing one more practice was protecting their patients and didn’t see it in terms of dollar signs.”
Integrity matters, too.
“We’ve often heard that the definition of integrity is, ‘Doing the right thing, even when no one is watching,’ and this holds true when it comes to running a safe practice,” Daw says. “The choice to communicate clear expectations when it comes to providing quality care in a safe environment sets the tone that the patient and the employee are of value, and that is why it is important established infection control and safety guidelines are followed.”
Understand the basics
Unfortunately, sometimes a fundamental understanding of good infection control practices can undermine even the most conscientious of efforts. A good foundation helps foster that understanding.
“We want a culture of safety,” Moore says. “A lot of things you can’t see. We know that we can’t see microorganisms, but we know they can live on surfaces for a really, really long time. You can look at herpes. Herpes can live on surfaces between four-and-a-half hours and several months. For the student that’s learning, the person that’s practicing or the patient who comes into practice, we don’t want them putting their hand on a counter that’s unclean, and then rubbing their eyes and getting ocular herpes. It’s very important that we consider the amount of time that we have to clean our surfaces, and making sure that we’re not only taking the time, but are using the products appropriately. Are we using them according to the manufacturer’s IFU? Are we using them for the number of minutes that we need for contact time?”
There are any number of places to go that can help refresh those basic concepts.
“Good places include OSAP, manufacturer's websites, dental magazines, and journal publications and textbooks,” Moore says.
She also recommends the CDC’s guidance that was published last year: "Summary for Infection Prevention Practices in Dental Settings: Basic Expectations for Safe Care."
“This document includes an Infection Prevention Checklist on page 29 that helps you to evaluate your infection prevention measures,” Moore says. “It covers the topics of hand hygiene through to dental unit water quality. The CDC also has a ‘Dental Check App’ that you can find on iTunes that follows a similar format. It is currently not available for Android devices, but my sources tell me they are working on it.”
Doing the right thing can extend beyond the day-to-day activities of your practice. When they’re done right, these practices can propagate into the future.
“It’s also knowing that by doing things right from the very beginning, and reinforcing those concepts, those good practices will be carried on,” Daw says. “There is a great story about a guru and a cat that visited temple every day. The guru instructed his followers to tie up the cat so that it would not interrupt the service and so they did, and this went on for many years. Then, after the guru passed away, they continued to tie the cat up during service, and after that cat passed away, they brought in another cat and tied it up during service until nobody remembered why they tied a cat up during service. The best outcome of observing good infection control practices from the beginning is obviously patient and employee safety. The next best outcome is that those same practices will continue to be perpetuated so that it becomes an established culture.”