Why educating the entire team in oral cancer detection protocol is critical


Ensuring your entire team has the necessary education and training to follow and understand oral cancer detection protocols can be crucial to effective patient care.

Imagine this: The doctor is doing his/her examination with a dental hygiene patient and discovers an area of concern while doing the oral cancer screening. 

Questions begin to swirl in the patient’s head. The doctor answers the patient questions, then leaves the hygiene room. The hygienist answers additional questions before finally handing the patient over to the business team.

But the patient starts asking questions again-this time directed to the business team.

Does your business team have the education and training about oral cancer detection to answer the patient’s questions? Do they have the training that would give them clarity of verbal scripting needed to calm patient fears?  Would the hygienist have to be called out from patient care to handle these additional questions?

Related reading: The importance of oral cancer screening in the dental practice

Even with a clinical issue like oral cancer, training must include the doctor AND the entire dental team. Everyone must be involved out of necessity.

So, what about carrying out a clinical protocol? Who needs to be trained/educated in the office?

For the oral cancer office protocol, the business team must clearly understand “next steps,” so that they can re-appoint the patient effectively in two-to-three weeks for follow-up or ensure proper referral to a specialist, if needed. All team members should be able to explain the next steps to the patient.

For a referral, any team member (clinical or non-clinical) should be able to quickly, easily and accurately put together all necessary information that needs to be sent to the specialist as determined by the written protocol for oral cancer. There should be more than one person in the office that knows what to send.

By training and educating the doctor and the entire team, everyone should be able to understand the return visit in two-to-three weeks and put together the necessary elements for referral to a specialist related to oral cancer concerns.

But let’s not forget the key role the dental assistant plays with oral cancer detection. The dental assistant should have all of the necessary tools to discuss patient concerns regarding a detected problem area after the oral cancer screening examination, if it happens when the assistant is involved with patient with oral cancer issues. The assistant needs to know and understand the written office protocol; i.e., the next steps for the patient after initial discovery of an area of concern or after a two-to-three week follow-up.  

Related reading: What you need to know about HPV, oral cancer and your dental patients

As you can see, the doctor, hygienist, dental assistant and the non-clinical team members must be equally educated, not only about the office’s commitment to early detection of oral cancer and clear patient communication but every step of the written office protocol for oral cancer. Including everyone in discussions and training about oral cancer is critical to a smoothly functioning office and, most importantly, effective patient care.

Take the time to ensure that you have an effectively written protocol for oral cancer and all other clinical protocols. Ensure your team has the necessary education and training to follow and understand the protocol, so that everyone can communicate consistently with patients and answer their questions and concerns. Your patients will thank you for it!

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