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Robert Elsenpeter is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Dental Products Report and Digital Esthetics. 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.
Dental practices are busy places, but infection control training shouldn't be put on the back burner.
There’s never a boring day in the dental practice.
There are always patients to be seen, equipment to be maintained and paperwork to be filled out. The last thing anyone needs is the added inconvenience of conducting infection control training. However, it must be done. Not only is yearly bloodborne pathogens training mandated by OSHA, but it’s a best practice in order to keep clinicians educated and up to snuff on important workplace safety practices.
“Just like attending CE to maintain clinical skills, it’s the same with safety training,” says Karen Daw of Karen Daw Consulting and former clinic health and safety director for The Ohio State University College of Dentistry. “Ongoing infection control continuing education should be part of the culture and dialogue about safety should occur at regular office meetings. In many states, infection control training is mandatory. And in some professions, a minimum number of CE credits in this area is required. The bottom line, and first thought, should always be safety. “
The person tapped to oversee the training is completed can be someone within the practice - most likely the practice’s infection prevention coordinator. There’s also value in partnering with an outside trainer. That trainer can be helpful, especially if the infection prevention coordinator doesn’t have time, or, better yet, to bring a fresh, current perspective.
“OSHA mandates that this person be familiar with the elements of the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard,” Daw says. “The CDC recommends someone who is willing to be trained. I learn more from trainers who are passionate about the topic. If the trainer can engage the audience and is familiar with adult learning styles, then retention of information will go farther.”
For Dr. Kimberley Michalak, DDS, who practices in Dublin, Ohio, bringing in a trainer, like Daw, has very clear benefits.
“The training that we have that is on our own lacks the up-to-date factor that the consultant has,” Dr. Michalak says. “They are more up to date with what’s trending, what’s new. I feel like anything that I’ve used that hasn’t been with a consultant has been kind of dated. The industry is changing so fast and with the new products and technologies that are coming out, I don’t think a self-training is adequate.”
Utilizing an outside trainer allows practices, like Dr. Michalak’s, to be aware of issues that they might be too close to see.
“For instance, we started making sure that we are placing our instruments the proper direction in the autoclave,” Dr. Michalak says. “We had been doing it incorrectly and flipping the packs upside down when they should be upright. Because that’s just what we all thought. It was standard thinking. And the way we were folding our bags for the autoclave was incorrect; we would just slap that thing down. Our consultant just showed us, ‘You just need to fold the adhesive part of at the very top, make sure you get a good seal and don’t just fold it all the way down.’ There are little things like that that just opened up our eyes.”
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Regular safety training shouldn’t be looked at as just one of those things that you’re required to do. Beyond being seen as a chore, safety training helps the practice keep patients and staff safe and healthy.
“It provides peace of mind (and keeps you off the six o’clock news),” Daw says. “In Texas, a dental clinic was closed because there were life-threatening violations related to staff not cleaning or sterilizing instruments used during procedures. This may have exposed several thousand patients to Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C and HIV. An infection control breach can be mitigated with the proper initial and ongoing training. Safety education should not be looked at as a mandatory requirement but as part of the culture of safety.”
It isn’t just patients who benefit from proper safety protocols.
“From an employer’s standpoint, doing the right things for my employees is important for their health, so they’re not getting needlesticks,” Dr. Michalak says. “I have the proper equipment for them and they can process instruments and not get stuck. It saves me money by saving time and funds for testing them at the hospital. I’ve had a few of my employees, in the past, that have not been using proper protocols and have gotten needlesticks, and it is not cheap. It’s not easy on them, and it is rough on the patient to be called and have to have blood work done. From that standpoint, it’s really helpful to do things the right way from the beginning for everybody’s well-being.”
Being mindful of safety isn’t only important in the short term, but it’s important months, years and even decades down the road.
“One of the big things that’s coming up now is the dentists and being diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis,” Dr. Michalak says. “We just had a dentist in town that passed away from just that very same thing. My employees, all of my team, we are constantly grinding on things. There are aerosols in the air. Our consultant recently took a close look at the masks that we wear. There are all kinds of masks out there: You can get cheap ones, you can get expensive ones, but nobody usually pays too much attention as long as it’s a mask or a glove or glasses. You just throw them on. She recently got me started on using this specific type of mask. It’s just peace of mind that when I’m done with my career in another 20 years, I won’t be unable to breathe.”
Bringing in an outside trainer can help the practice avoid the common missteps that occur when trying to conduct training in-house.
“A common one is a practice will say they’ve done the safety training with the doctor,” Daw says. “Often, they are not training on all the elements of the required OSHA standards, are not providing updates as required, or just provide misinformation.”
From a clinician’s perspective, Dr. Michalak illustrates the value of bringing in a third-party trainer.
“When I have my consultant come in, everybody’s paying attention,” she says. “She is interesting, she keeps the people engaged, she’s a public speaker. If I were to do it, or if there were to be some computer program that they had to watch, or paperwork I have to do, I think it would just be more going through the motions. Just trying to get through it. I do feel that things have changed after the consultant has been here. We are good about doing things and implementing change.”
There’s other importance beyond simply completing a mandated task or even keeping abreast of safety trends and topics. Staff can see that their safety is important and valued.
“They have more respect for me, given that I’m doing the things that are protecting them,” Dr. Michalak says. “For instance, I switched to a type of wipes that I was using because it’s not going to harm you, like the stuff we were using. There’s definitely a better advantage that they know I’m looking out for them and the things that are protecting them.”
Dental practices are busy places, and while some tasks seems superfluous and maybe even somewhat burdensome, the truth of the matter is that they help keep everyone safe - both today and tomorrow.