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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.
Is your practice in need of a fresh set of eyes?
Infection control is critical to the dental practice. Beyond the obvious need – safety for both patients and staff – there are mandates and recommendations from the CDC and OSHA that necessitate continuing education.
Additionally, the practice may want to bring in a second set of eyes to assess the office for safety-related issues. For whatever reason one might need expert assistance, infection control consultants can help.
Call in a ringer
Ideally, each practice will have its own infection control coordinator, or someone in the practice to be the go-to person for infection control matters. But if someone in the practice is already being tapped to fill that role, why bring in an outside consultant?
“The CDC recommends that each office have an infection control coordinator,” says Karen Daw of Karen Daw Consulting and former clinic health and safety director for The Ohio State University College of Dentistry. “While some taking on those responsibilities actually have received additional credentialing in safety and infection prevention, most assigned to this very important role know the basics. And that is acceptable, except now we are asking them to be responsible for the safety of all the employees and patients. Partnering with an outside resource, like a consultant who specializes in ‘covering the bases,’ can make things easier for the coordinator. There are many things to be concerned with when running a practice. Why lose sleep over whether this area is being managed properly?”
Jessica Yanke, clinical coordinator at Winick Endodontics in Canton, Ohio, says her practice utilizes consultants because of the level of knowledge and expertise that they bring.
“A consultant knows the ins and outs of all aspects of OSHA and protection,” Yanke says. “It’s somebody who studies it and is constantly looking for updates and ways to improve things and gives out helpful tips and a customized plan for our office. It’s having someone there to rely on if we have questions. ‘Are we doing this right?’ It’s just having someone to lean on.”
Daw adds, “I believe people have more respect for an organization that asks themselves, ‘Are we doing everything we possibly can’ than a practice that just assumes they know it all. You don’t know what you don’t know. Those offices that partner with outside resources operate at a high level of performance and do not settle for the bare minimum. The patients notice it too.”
Having a qualified consultant brings an interpersonal relationship that makes the topics more relatable.
“There is a dynamic energy that is provided during a live lecture,” says Laura deForest, executive director of the Stark County Dental Society. “And then, of course, the interactive Q&A that always follows the meeting is extremely helpful for all in the room. What’s nice is to have that resource available afterward. An office will come up with a question and contact the speaker, and that speaker will get right back with them. That, to our offices, is invaluable.”
Certainly, infection control is a topic on which clinicians are thoroughly trained. Additionally, regular continuing education is required to maintain one’s license. To the CDC and OSHA’s credit, infection control topics are shared freely on the organizations’ websites. So, why do you need an outside consultant?
“If my car was having problems, I’d be able to take a look under the hood and tinker around a bit, but I probably wouldn’t want to attempt a full engine swap,” Daw says. “A consultant brings that level of expertise when working with the office. Consultants are able to navigate state and federal regulations, help interpret standards and explain how to be in compliance.”
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Yanke’s practice utilizes consultants both for routine trainings as well as whenever the practice has a specific need. Having that resource can be invaluable to a practice, especially when the inevitable question arises.
“We definitely keep in contact with her, and that’s helpful if we have any questions or anything,” Yanke says. “We also did sort of a mock OSHA inspection with her. That allowed her to come in and look at the ins and outs of everything we are doing, and making sure we were following everything properly, if there are things we needed to tweak or things we needed to improve. It was definitely beneficial to have her here to do that inspection so that we could make those changes.”
In some cases, that fresh perspective and knowledge allowed them to discover processes and procedures that seemed correct on the surface, but ultimately were incorrect.
“When we were doing our mock inspection, she opened our sterilizer, and the inset that we had inside the sterilizer wasn’t proper for the cassettes that we were using,” Yanke recalls. “It wasn’t putting space between our cassettes, and they were sitting on top of each other. The consultant looked up the proper setting for us to have, and I ordered it that very day, and it showed up here the very next day. We switched over to it and have been, obviously, doing it the right way ever since. We knew that our pouches had to be in a single layer. We knew that, but what we didn’t know is that our cassettes had to have space in between them when they were in the sterilizer.”
The Stark County Dental Society utilizes trainers for the organization’s yearly meetings. The quality of information that the consultant provides, deForest says, bring attendees from far and wide.
“Every February, we provide OSHA training to our offices,” deForest says. “We typically fill the room with about 500 people. We usually have about 100 of our dental offices attend, and some of them will bring their entire office team to this meeting. It’s a popular meeting. They’re looking, of course, to get their annual OSHA requirement fulfilled, but we also offer two hours of CE. Our OSHA consultants come back each year and provide our offices with valuable updates: what’s new in the industry and what’s new in terms of their compliance issues.”
Finding the best consultant, like anything, involves doing some homework and seeking out advice from trusted colleagues.
“You definitely want someone with experience and somebody that eats, sleeps and breathes OSHA,” Yanke says. “I’ve been in this office for 10 years, and she’s been the one we’ve used as long as I’ve been here. She really knows the ins and outs. She’s got suggestions for you, as far as going that extra mile and making sure that we are really taking the safety of our office and putting it out front. You need somebody with that experience and somebody that loves doing it.”
Daw advises being wary of some claims that may not be authentic.
“OSHA does not ‘certify’ trainers or dental practices, so be wary of anybody offering up OSHA certified credentials,” Daw says. “What OSHA does do is offer courses that lead to becoming an authorized OSHA trainer with the Department of Labor (OSHA falls under the DoL).”
While those credentials don’t currently exist, they’re in the process of being developed, and they’ll be a good indicator of a consultant’s proficiency.
“A new certification in dental infection control will soon be available,” Daw says. “The multi-step process will result in the first-of-its-kind recognized dental infection prevention credential. From the Executive Director of DANB, Cindy Durley, ‘Over the years, several infection control breaches in dental settings made national headlines. To help address this issue, the Organization for Safety, Asepsis and Prevention (OSAP), the Dental Assisting National Board, Inc. (DANB) and the DALE Foundation are collaborating on a comprehensive, multi-year infection control education and credentialing initiative. More information will be available this summer on each organization’s website.’
“Besides credentials, look for someone with the right experience, who is knowledgeable and listens to the needs of the practice,” Daw adds. “I advise my practices to consider, ‘Are they a good fit?’ There are times I might refer a practice to a colleague based on the needs assessment.”
Certainly, offices can conduct regular trainings on their own. However, bringing in a consultant is an opportunity for a fresh set of eyes to evaluate the practice and bring a new level of knowledge and experience to annual trainings.