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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.
While the fundamentals of infection control are, to some degree, constant (hands must be washed, surfaces must be disinfected, etc.), the field is also somewhat dynamic (new infection threats arise, the latest equipment must be sanitized, and so forth). With everything else dental professionals have to stay on top of, keeping abreast of trends in infection prevention may seem like a chore. However, it doesn’t have to be daunting, especially given the abundance of educational opportunities.
The Information Age
The internet makes staying on top of current information easier than ever. Dental-specific information can be garnered from official websites like OSHA, the ADA, or FDA. For instance, Karen Daw, of Karen Daw Consulting and former clinic health and safety director for The Ohio State University College of Dentistry, refers to the CDC’s website.
“The CDC Oral Health site houses some of the best resources on infection control and prevention in dentistry, including Guidelines for Infection Control in Dental Health-Care Settings - 2003, Guideline for Disinfection and Sterilization in Healthcare Facilities -200m8 and the 2016 Summary of Infection Prevention Practices in Dental Settings: Basic Expectations for Safe Care,” she says. “It’s also very easy to navigate, as they have popular topics broken down by category like ‘personal protective equipment’ or ‘hand hygiene.’ They house a Frequently Asked Questions section. I always encourage offices to look at the FAQ. If they have a question, most likely others have too.”
Industry publications offer current, pertinent information.
“Another way to stay on top of your infection control game is to read dental publications and newsletters,” Daw says. “They are devoted to providing the latest dental information from leaders in the field. The articles are relevant, easy to read, and cover some of the most popular topics related to infection control like surface disinfection, common infection control breaches and instrument processing.”
Vendors are also exceptional resources, especially since they’re on the forefront of what’s new in the industry.
“Dental infection control manufacturers are always coming out with the next best product to solve your infection control woes,” Daw explains. “And many will have data to support why their product is the best. Sure, they are going to talk their product up, but gathering information from a variety of companies can help the practice stay on top of the latest in infection control.”
Continuing education courses provide an opportunity for in-depth, hands-on learning, too.
“Attending infection control continuing education courses is a great way to ensure you are receiving the most current infection control policies and procedures,” Daw says. “I always recommend having the entire office attend so they also have an opportunity to learn about updates or changes. It’s difficult enough trying to implement changes to ensure the office is doing what is required. Having the whole team there to hear the same message helps to remove some of the resistance.”
Practices may also benefit from bringing in a consultant who specializes in infection prevention.
“A consultant can guide you and keep you up to date,” Daw adds. “We live in a world where we are continuously bombarded with information, and our poor brains are constantly sifting through information to determine what is meaningful and what can be discarded. Consultants scour publications and websites, conduct research and attend infection control events on a full-time basis. A consultant can act as a filter, collecting relevant information, then neatly packaging it in a way that can more readily be accessed. One aspect of their job is to ensure their clients receive the updates in a way that saves the practice from having to spend too much time and money had they done it on their own.”
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While it’s easier than ever to remain up to date on current policies and trends, a more effective route is just to let someone else do it the heavy lifting for you. The best way is by joining an organization like the Organization for Safety, Asepsis and Prevention (OSAP).
OSAP is a community of clinicians, educators, researchers and industry representatives who advocate for safe and infection-free delivery of oral healthcare. OSAP focuses on strategies to improve compliance with safe practices and on building a strong network of recognized infection control experts.
“I think your best bet is to belong to OSAP and then you don’t have to reinvent the wheel and spend hours at your computer searching for accurate information,” says Dr. Marie Fluent, DDS, an educational consultant for OSAP. “OSAP does the homework for you and there are plenty of resources available to help the infection control coordinator do his or her job and to keep up to date with policies and protocols.”
OSAP was founded in 1984 and incorporated as a nonprofit organization in 1985. It was developed in response to the emergence of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
“With everything that the average infection control coordinator has going on, I’m a big fan of whatever can make my job of staying up to date on infection control policies and procedures easy,” Daw adds. “This is why one of my favorite resources is OSAP. Members receive the latest news on infection control and can even take advantage of the ‘Ask OSAP’ feature for their most pressing questions. Two major annual events, the Infection Control Bootcamp and their annual conference, bring together the who’s who in the field, including representatives from the major government agencies like OSHA, FDA, EPA and CDC.”
OSAP disseminates information through a number of tools, including newsletters, its website and live events.
“OSAP has a network of recognized infection control experts,” Dr. Fluent says. “They offer online resources, Frequently Asked Questions and toolkits. OSAP provides a weekly email called InfoBites. This publication highlights late-breaking news to help stay current and be able to provide the latest information to your patients, students and others.”
For those who prefer in-person events, OSAP provides opportunities for those new to infection prevention as well as for those who have advanced knowledge and interest in infection control.
“OSAP offers two conferences per year,” Dr. Fluent says. “The first one is the Dental Infection Control Boot Camp, which gives a strong foundation and core curriculum in infection prevention and safety. The OSAP Annual Conference, however, offers late-breaking information on science, policies and procedures, new technologies and products, and much more. Attendees of the annual conference are typically those who want to shape evolving guidance and emerging issues, such as educators, consultants, compliance officers, policy makers, researchers, industry experts, etc. The presentations at the annual conference are typically above and beyond the core curriculum. It’s cutting-edge: What’s happening with the science; what’s happening in the literature; what are the emerging infectious diseases; what are the emerging issues that we need to address; how do we enhance compliance in the educational setting in private practices, etc.”
Within OSAP, information shared is not just a one-way street. Members with specific questions have the opportunity for those to be answered as well.
“If your questions are not answered in any of the above forums, there is a place on the OSAP website where you can ask the expert,” Dr. Fluent explains. “That is a type of written question to OSAP and experts within OSAP will do the research and provide an answer to you within a short period of time. That will be an evidence-based answer, based on science, not opinion. There is a list of over 2,000 of these Frequently Asked Questions on the OSAP website as well.”
The website also offers core infection prevention knowledge and policies, including a ‘Knowledge Center,’ as well as a number of toolkits that members can use for their individual situations.
“There are more than 60 toolkits that may include policies and protocols, regulations and guidelines, best practices, and most anything that you would want to know for your office infection control program,” Dr. Fluent says. “Other toolkits include infection prevention, if you were in a portable dental clinic, policies and protocols for vaccinations for staff, hand hygiene, instrument processing, handling your dental unit waterlines, and so forth. So, any type of policy and protocol that you would be looking for might be available under these toolkit sections of the OSAP website.”
The website also offers current news about infection prevention, as well as the opportunity to network with colleagues.
“In my opinion, one of the greatest advantages to an OSAP membership is the ability to network with others involved in infection prevention in dentistry,” Dr. Fluent says.
In the world of infection prevention, there’s core knowledge, or basics that everyone should know. However, for times when professionals need a refresher, or for those times when new information arises, clinicians needs not be overwhelmed – help is always nearby.