Is the dental industry prepared for another Ebola?

February 17, 2015
Kevin Henry
Issue 2

As the organization enters its fourth decade, OSAP's thought leaders once again sat down with Dental Products Report for a candid roundtable discussion on how far infection control has come in the dental industry .. and how far it still has to go.

As the organization enters its fourth decade, OSAP's thought leaders once again sat down with Dental Products Report for a candid roundtable discussion on how far infection control has come in the dental industry .. and how far it still has to go.

Following up on our conversation from the April and October editions of DPR, I recently had the opportunity to sit down with some of the most respected thought leaders in the country on the topic of infection control and prevention and pick the brains of these individuals who have played, and continue to play, a key role in OSAP. The panel included Dr. Chris Miller, Dr. John O’Keefe, Therese Long, Mike Smurr and Marguerite Walsh

OSAP Roundtable: Discussing current hot topics in infection control

DPR: What’s the biggest lesson there was to learn on the infection control front in 2014?

John O’Keefe: There’s no doubt that 2014 was the year of Ebola. Who could’ve imagined, when the year began, what an impact one disease would have on the entire world? I think the Ebola outbreak shows we always have to remain vigilant against emerging diseases.

Mike Smurr: The actions of the oral surgeon’s practice in Tulsa, Okla., still have repercussions today. I think the ghosts of that one incident still haunt dental practices.

Chris Miller: We heard a lot about disease emerging in other countries in 2014, but we have to remember that diseases can emerge any time, any place. I worry about the drug-resistant microbes that are out there. I think that could be something we all need to be watching as we head into this year. We have to be prepared and know what to do when something like that strikes.

Therese Long: I think 2014 was the year of the unexpected. Our profession has to be vigilant and ready to address unexpected issues at any time. Preparation and knowledge are key.

3 main steps for a proper infection control process

DPR: As we enter into 2015, what’s the one infection control resolution every practice should make?

Miller: Every dental practice should have a safety coordinator to manage patient and provider safety. There has to be someone in every practice who ensures compliance, ensures that proper training has been completed and proper equipment is available. Within the practice, someone has to promote the culture of safety. I believe one person can drive the entire practice.

O’Keefe: One person can drive the entire office, but it also has to be a team effort. One person can be the leader, but without a team following that leader, it makes it very hard to succeed. Dental practices need to be asking, “Which member of our team will keep their cool in the event of a problem?” Let one person lead, but make sure the rest of team is prepared to follow.

Marguerite Walsh: I believe a resolution should be to ensure that every new team member is properly trained in infection control protocols. Education has to be at the forefront for everyone, and it’s important that new people understand the importance of this education and the impact it has on patients and the practice.

O’Keefe: Good point, and OSAP was designed for that purpose. OSAP was created to share that knowledge in a very user-friendly format.

Long: Every dental visit should be a safe dental visit for both the patient and the provider. Naming a coordinator is the first step, but infection control is a process that must continuously be examined and refined.

Ultimate Guide: Your guide to what's new in infection control

Next page: How can infection control become a team mentality?

DPR: How can infection control really become a team mentality rather than a “that’s your job, not mine” mentality?

Miller: A culture of safety has to be developed within the practice. Every team member has to show a commitment toward safety. Ideas for improvement must be always thought about and discussed, and the lines for feedback and implementation must always be open.

O’Keefe: It goes back to the Golden Rule and doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. Every patient can go somewhere else for dental treatment if he or she doesn’t feel safe or protected. If you apply the Golden Rule every day to your patients, things will fall into place so that feeling never happens. When I go into a doctor’s office, I have to have confidence that the office treats my safety as a priority. I can’t leave there worse off than when I came in for my appointment.

Smurr: Every team member has to be involved in knowing that the patient is more educated today than ever before. Patients are watching everything that is done in the practice with a very educated eye.

Free E-book: A guide to surface management and infection control

DPR: What’s something in the infection control arena that you feel needs to change in the next five years?

Miller: Change is great, and we can think of a lot of things to improve upon, but you can’t just make a change and then forget about it. We can never become complacent. We can’t think, “We’ve never had any problems, so we’re fine.” What if something were to happen tomorrow? Are you prepared?

O’Keefe: Infection control education has to change. Every office has to stay up-to-date on the latest information. It’s sad that infection control is a part of dental school teaching, but in many jurisdictions it’s not required CE when dentists get into the real world.

Long: I think John is right. There should be an expectation that those who are responsible for infection control protocols have a standard level of infection control knowledge. The dental practice is a healthcare environment staffed by professionals who are committed to elevating oral health. Education can help ensure such care is delivered safely and in an infection-free manner. 

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Continuing reading on page three...

DPR: What are some final thoughts you’d like to leave with our readers?

Miller: Not often discussed are the true benefits of infection control. People don’t think about how a practice is impacted when sharps injuries are reduced; there’s less time off for illness, less stress waiting for results of blood tests and lower costs for post-exposure medical evaluation. Also, patients walk out of the doors feeling safe and protected and the staff feels good about providing safe dental visits.

Smurr: As important as those of us in this roundtable discussion believe this is, it’s also important to know there are so many others who feel the weight of its importance. Dental professionals don’t have to wade through infection control protocols on their own. OSAP is here to help by taking a lot of “government speak” and boiling it down into a user-friendly, understandable way of learning.

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Walsh: I completely agree with Mike. It’s amazing the resources that OSAP has and what can be shared. We talked about the importance of an infection control coordinator earlier, and OSAP is where this person can learn so much to become the leader he or she needs to be in the practice.

O’Keefe: Really, it’s a matter of doing all of the little things and doing them right. There’s no huge mystery here. Focus on your job and the safety of your practice and patients. OSAP is here to support you and is dedicated to serving you.

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